Alarms, escape plans: How to prepare your home and family for fire emergency

White plastic fire alarm smoke detector with red LED indicator on ceiling
Photo credit Getty Images
By , KYW Newsradio

The recent tragedies of the duplex fire in Philadelphia, PA, and the high-rise fire in New York City have brought fire prevention and safety to the forefront.

Gustav Baumann, Chief of Fire Prevention for the Philadelphia Fire Department, hopes everyone is taking a second look at their homes right now for ways to avoid and survive a fire.

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"Sadly, these events are what make us think about fires," said Baumann. "If it doesn't happen on our block or if it isn't someone we know, we think of everything else that can happen to us in the universe."

According to Baumann, many single family homes in different sections of the city have been converted into multiple occupancy dwellings.

"Sometimes it's one family per floor," he said. "Sometimes the apartments are broken down where they have sections of floors. What is interesting about these is that they are coded as a single family home, not needing fire alarms."

However, Baumann said every apartment needs working smoke alarms -- either new alarms with 10-year lithium batteries built in, or older models that require 9-volt batteries.

"Continue on by having a carbon monoxide alarm on every level of the home," Baumann suggested, "and then continue through to having a fire escape plan, and then follow that up by practicing."

The Chief stressed that families should prepare their children for fire emergencies. "What we tell families is start off small," he advised, "showing them where they are in the house using a diagram. And then holding their hand and walking them through the house explaining if you ever see smoke or hear your smoke alarm go off, this is what we will do."

But what he doesn't recommend are escape ladders that hook onto windowsills.

"You are in an emergency and you are fighting for your life and you're scared," he explained. "In most row homes throughout [Philadelphia], if you go out back and look up there's a whole set of wires that go between the second and first floor windows," he explained. "If that insulation is stripped, and you put the ladder out the window and climb down, you may step on those wires," risking electrical shock or a fall from a high window.

Baumann said in that situation it is better to go to the window, call for help, and stay in place rather than try to exit. The key is to get that early warning from working smoke alarms, and have an escape plan in place to get out quickly.

He also urged people to get children used to sleeping behind closed doors, and use a baby monitor if they need to keep tabs on them. In the event of a fire, a closed door will prevent deadly smoke and heat from coming in and allow firefighters the time to respond if a family can't safely exit.

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