How to Keep Safe During a House Fire

Three Methods:Keeping Safe in Your House During a FireWhat to do Once You Exit Your HomePreventing Future House Fires

Though you may not think you'll ever fall victim to a house fire, it's better to be prepared and know what to do to avoid panicking if it happens to you. If a fire starts in your home, your first priority should be to get yourself and your family members out as quickly as possible. There's no time to stop to get your valuables, or even to rescue your beloved pet. When it comes to house fires, timing is everything. If you want to know how to stay safe during a house fire to increase your chances of survival, just follow these steps.

Method 1
Keeping Safe in Your House During a Fire

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    React as soon as you hear your smoke alarm go off. If you hear your smoke detector or alarm going off and see fire, try to exit your home as safely as possible. Do not try to grab your phone, valuables, or your other important possessions. Your only concern should be getting yourself and your family members out safely. If it's nighttime, yell loudly to get everyone up. You may only have a few seconds to escape safely, so ignore all secondary concerns that have nothing to do with staying alive.
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    Safely exit through doors. If you see smoke under a door, then you cannot go out that door, because smoke is toxic and fire is sure to follow. If you don't see smoke, put the back of your hand up to the door to make sure it doesn't feel hot. If the door feels cool, then open it slowly and pass through it. If your door is open and there is a fire preventing you from exiting the room, close the door to protect yourself from the fire.
    • If the door is hot or there's smoke under it and there are no other doors to pass through, you will have to try to escape through a window.
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    Protect yourself from smoke inhalation. Get low to the floor and crouch or crawl on your hands and knees to evade the smoke. Though you may think that running is faster, encourage your family members to crouch or crawl, too. Smoke inhalation causes people to become disoriented and can even render a person unconscious. Knowing this, you should cover your nose and mouth if you have to walk by or through a heavily smoke-filled room.[1]
    • You can also place a shirt or a wet rag over your nose and mouth, but only if you have time. This will only buy you a minute or so, which is not a lot of time, but it does help to filter those products of combustion which lead to smoke inhalation.
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    Stop, drop, and roll if your clothes catch fire. If your clothes catch fire, immediately stop what you're doing, drop flat to the ground, and roll around until you put the fire out. Rolling around will smother the fire quickly. Cover your face with your hands as you're rolling to protect yourself.[2]
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    Ward off the smoke if you can't get out. If you can't escape your home and are waiting for help, don't panic. You may not be able to get out, but you can still take some measures to ward off the smoke and stay safe. Close your door and cover all vents and cracks around it with cloth or tape to keep the smoke out for as long as you can. Whatever you do, don't panic. You can always reclaim some measure of control, even if you feel trapped.[3]
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    Call for help from a second story window. If you are trapped in your second story room in the event of a fire, do what you can to get yourself to an area where people will be able to hear you or see you. You can take a sheet or something else - white preferably - and hang it out the window to signify that you need help when the first responders get there. Be sure to close the window -- leaving it open draws the fire towards the fresh oxygen. Put something down to prevent the smoke from coming underneath the door, such as a towel or anything that you can find.
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    Escape from a second story window if you can. If you have a two-story house, you should have an escape ladder that you can throw out in case a fire or other problem happens. If you really must get out of the window, look for a ledge and if there is a ledge, you can get yourself out onto the ledge facing the building. Always face the building structure when exiting a window on an upper floor. From a second story, if you have to hang, you might get closer to the ground and you could potentially let go and fall to safety.
    • The truth of the matter is that you are probably a lot safer staying put and trying to compartmentalize by closing doors between you and the fire, prevent the smoke from coming into the room, and putting something over your nose and mouth to filter the air and hoping for the best.

Method 2
What to do Once You Exit Your Home

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    Do a head count. If anybody is missing, only re-enter the building if it is safe to do so. Tell the first responders immediately on their arrival if you are afraid somebody is missing. Likewise, if everybody is accounted for, let the fire responders know so that they're not sending people in endangering their lives looking for others.
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    Call your local emergency services number. Call 911 in North America, 000 in Australia, 111 in New Zealand and 999 in the UK or 112 from your mobile (this number has priority on the mobile phone network in the UK as too many 999 calls are made unintentionally) 112 is the emergency number in all of Europe and will be directed to the local emergency number by the network if necessary. Use your cellphone or call from a neighbor's house.
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    Do an injury assessment. After making the call and the resources are coming, it is time to check yourself and family members to make sure that there are no injuries. If there are, do what you can to address that and when the fire department arrives, you can ask for directions and help.
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    Get away from the structure. Keep a safe distance between you and the fire. Take the necessary measures after the house fire to be safe.

Method 3
Preventing Future House Fires

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    Form and practice your family's escape plan. The best way to prevent house fires is for your family to have a plan of escape in the event of a fire. You should form your plan and practice it at least twice a year to get comfortable with the routine and to ensure that you'll be clear-headed enough to carry out your plan if the time ever comes. Here are some things to keep in mind as you do this:
    • Plan to find two ways to escape from each room. You should always look for a second way out in case the first way is blocked. For example, if a door is blocked, you should find a way out through a window or a different door.
    • Practice escaping by crawling, being in the dark, and having your eyes closed.
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    Make sure your home is prepared. To make sure that your home is prepared for a house fire, check that your smoke detectors are functioning and always have fresh batteries, and make sure that your windows can be easily opened and that their screens can be quickly removed. If you have windows with security bars, they must have quick release devices to allow them to be opened right away. Everyone in your family should know how to open and close these windows. If your home is prepared for a house fire, you'll greatly improve your chances of staying safe during one.[4]
    • Buy collapsible ladders that are made by a nationally recognized laboratory (such as the Underwriters Laboratory, UL), in case you'll need them to get down from the roof.
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    Practice safe behaviors. To prevent your house from catching fire in the first place, there are some safety precautions that you should take:[5]
    • Teach your children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
    • Always be in the kitchen when you're cooking something. Don't leave cooking food unattended.
    • Do not smoke in the house. Make sure you put out your cigarettes completely.
    • Dispose of any electronics with frayed wires, which could lead to a fire.
    • Avoid lighting candles unless they're directly in your light of vision. Do not leave a lighted candle in a room where no one is.
    • always check that you have turned the gas off before leaving the kitchen.
    • try to use gun or lighter instead of matchsticks.


  • Have safety equipment maintained and in easily found locations, including fire extinguishers and safety ladders (and know how to use them). Have all extinguishers checked regularly (once a year is good) and replace if defective.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors work. A good way to remember is to change your batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings (in areas that do that).
  • Practice your escape plan with the whole family! It may never happen but nobody can ever know for sure and it is better to be safe than sorry.
  • Clean your home appliances regularly to prevent fires.
  • Make sure you test your smoke detectors regularly! They should be changed every 5 years. Don't go back inside.
  • If you are on fire "stop, drop, and roll AND cover your face".
  • Feeling a door for heat: use the back of your hand to feel a door for heat, not the palm or fingers. The back of your hand has more nerve endings than your palm, allowing you to accurately determine the temperature of an object without actually contacting it. Also, doors can get hot enough to burn you without appearing very hot at all. You may later need to use your palms or fingers to help you escape.


  • Make sure everyone knows where to go after escaping. Set a specific location, far enough from the building to be safe, but close enough to get to easily and quickly. Make sure that everyone knows to go directly to that meeting spot, and stay there until everyone is accounted for.
  • The most important rule, before all else, is to stay low! Hot smoke, be it toxic, scorching, or both, rises so keeping close to the floor can help you avoid inhaling or being burnt by smoke that might have already entered the room. If the room is clear of smoke then you may stand but be careful upon entering any new space to avoid the same danger.
  • In a fire, it is often impossible to get from one part of a dwelling to another. Consequently, every member of the household old enough to do so MUST know how to get out of every room in the place even if the usual doors are inaccessible.
  • Do not reenter a burning building. Forget everything that you have seen in movies and TV shows depicting the hero rushing into the flames to make a rescue. That only happens in movies. In the real world, people who reenter burning buildings frequently die within a few feet of the point at which they entered. Going back into the building will only mean one more victim for the fire fighters to have to look for.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper and pen (to write down your plan)
  • Working smoke detectors, with fresh batteries
  • Fire extinguishers (for very small fires)
  • Safety ladders

Article Info

Categories: Fire Emergencies