As a citizen, wife and mother, I am all too familiar with the tragedy of a home fire. It was the quick response of a 911 operator, first responders and an established escape plan that our family had practiced that saved our lives on the night of Jan. 12.
That night, our family home was destroyed by an explosion. Thanks to the urging of the 911 operator, we left our home a little more than 5 minutes before the explosion. Because our family had an evacuation plan and a place that we agreed to meet in the event of a fire, we were just far enough away from the debris to avoid being hurt. I had chosen that spot to be out of the road and away from fire engines, in the event of a fire.
I have heard people say, “I never thought it would happen to me.” I understand that thought completely. Never would I have thought this would happen to my family, either. To anyone who has had this or a similar experience, I am truly sorry. I completely understand your loss.
Fires in West Virginia are more likely to lead to deaths than those in other states. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, in 2017, 7.4 deaths per 1,000 fires were reported in West Virginia. The national average was 2.3 deaths per 1,000 fires. We must work with our partners, including the state Fire Marshal’s Office, local fire departments and the American Red Cross, to make our homes safer and prevent death.
Smoke alarms are a key part of fire safety and are integral to the development of a home fire escape plan. These alarms should be installed inside every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of a home. Smoke alarms are available that can be connected so that, when one sounds, they all sound.
Also, combination smoke alarms with carbon monoxide detectors are available, adding an additional layer of protection.
Smoke alarms should be checked monthly, and replaced if they are more than 10 years old. Nationally, three out of five fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or smoke alarms that no longer work.
The American Red Cross has a program called the West Virginia Home Fire Campaign — Sound the Alarm. Through this program, it connects with its partners, including local fire departments, to install up to three free smoke alarms in the homes of those who need them. If you do not have properly installed, working smoke alarms in your home, please call the American Red Cross, at 1-844-216-8286. You may also find additional information about this campaign online at www.redcross.org/local/west -virginia/about-us/our-work/home-fire- campaign.html.
To keep your family safe, follow this guidance from the National Fire Protection Association:
- Have an escape plan. Discuss the plan with everyone in your home.
- Have an outside meeting place that is a safe distance from the home where everyone should meet.
- Practice fire drills with everyone in your home at least twice a year during the day and night.
- Practice using different ways to get outside.
- In the event of a real fire, one or more options for escape may be blocked or unsafe.
- Teach children how to escape on their own, in case you cannot help them.
- Close doors behind you as you leave. Closing the door may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire.
According to a NFPA survey, while 71 percent of Americans have an escape plan in case of a fire, only 47 percent of those have practiced it.
If you hear a smoke alarm, get out and stay out. If there is smoke, get low and go under the smoke on your way out. Do not go back in for personal items. Call 911 or the fire department once you are outside your home.
Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe by installing smoke alarms in your home and having a thoughtfully prepared escape plan that you continue to practice.