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Oliver: Escape tips aim to spark interest in fire safety

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As the wife of a firefighter, I probably have more interest in fire safety than the average person.

After all, I get to hear about the numerous ways area residents lose their homes and properties to fires.

In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to 369,500 home structure fires. Those fires injured 13,350 people, killed 2,640 and caused $6.9 billion in damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Because a lot of fires are preventable, it’s not surprising that the nation’s firefighters would like to get the word out about fire safety.

This week is National Fire Prevention Week, which commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In that fire, more than 250 people were killed, and 100,000 were left homeless.

This year’s National Fire Prevention Week theme is “Have 2 Ways Out,” emphasizing the need to have an escape plan in the event of a fire.

In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get out of control, and it takes only minutes for a house to fill with smoke and become engulfed in flames, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

The administration recommends that families prepare and practice their fire escape plan twice a year.

Here are some tips to put together a plan:

• Draw a map of each level of the home and show all doors and windows. Find two ways to get out of each room. Make sure all doors and windows that lead outside open easily.

• Teach children how to escape on their own.

• Practice the fire escape plan at night and during the day.

In the event of a fire, here are a few more tips:

• Take the safest exit route, but if you must escape through smoke, remember to crawl low under the smoke and keep your mouth covered.

• Never open doors that are hot to the touch. If the door feels cool, open it slowly, but be prepared to close it quickly if you see heavy smoke or fire.

• Designate a meeting location a safe distance from the home, such as by a specific tree or at the end of the driveway.

• Make sure everyone in the household knows how to call 911. And make sure the house number is visible from the street so firefighters can find the home in the event of an emergency.

• Once you’re out of the house, do not return to a burning building for any reason. Children should be taught not to hide from firefighters. If a pet is missing, tell the firefighters right away.

For more safety tips, visit www.usfa.fema.gov or www.nfpa.org.

Fire safety might not be all that exciting, but knowledge and a little prevention just might save your life.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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