Idaho Transportation

Office of Communications
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563


Fire prevention month prompts suggestions
for avoiding catastrophies

From Cheryl D. Rost
ITD Safety & Risk Manager
One in four households have actually developed and practiced a home fire escape plan to ensure they could escape quickly and safely.

In 2004, there were an estimated 395,500 reported home structure fires and 3,190 associated civilian deaths in the United States.

One-third of American households who made an estimate thought they would have at least 6 minutes before a fire in their home would become life-threatening. The time available is often less. And only eight percent said their first thought on hearing a smoke alarm would be to get out!


Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning.

Get everyone together in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan <file://EscapePlanGrid07.pdf> of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.

Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.

Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.

Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan.

Go outside to see if your street number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.

If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.

If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Emergency release devices won't compromise your security - but they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.

Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family's fire escape plan. When staying overnight at other people's homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don't have a plan in place, offer to help them make one. This is especially important when children are permitted to attend "sleepovers" at friends' homes.

Be fully prepared for a real fire: when a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately.

Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

Putting your plan to the test
Practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.

Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.

It's important to determine during the drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation.

If your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. Escape ladders can be placed in or near windows to provide an additional escape route.

Review the manufacturer's instructions carefully so you'll be able to use a safety ladder in an emergency. Practice setting up the ladder from a first floor window to make sure you can do it correctly and quickly. Children should only practice with a grown-up, and only from a first-story window. Store the ladder near the window, in an easily accessible location. You don't want to have to search for it during a fire.

Always choose the escape route that is safest – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to your exit.

Closing doors on your way out slows the spread of fire, giving you more time to safely escape.

Vehicle fires
During 2004, U.S. public fire departments responded to an estimated 266,500 highway-type vehicle fires. These fires claimed 520 lives and caused $969 million in direct property damage. Highway vehicles include cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles commonly driven on roads or highways.

Facts and Figures
One (17 percentof every six reported fires involves a highway-type vehicle and 13 percent of all civilian fire deaths.

On average, more than 30 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour.

More than two-thirds of highway vehicle fires resulted from mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions. Collisions or rollovers caused only 3 percent of these fires but 57 percent of the associated deaths.

Motor vehicles contain multiple gallons of highly flammable gasoline and other combustible liquids, including motor oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and brake fluid. Leakage of these fluids is the leading item first ignited in highway vehicle fires.

Source: National estimates based on NFIRS and NFPA survey

Safety Tips
Vehicle maintenance is crucial to preventing vehicle fires. The American Automobile Association offers the following tips.

Have your vehicles inspected at least annually by a trained, professional technician.
Watch for fluid leaks under vehicles, cracked or blistered hoses, or wiring that is loose, has exposed metal or has cracked insulation. Have any of these conditions inspected and repaired as soon as possible.

Be alert to changes in the way your vehicle sounds when running, or to a visible plume of exhaust coming from the tailpipe. A louder than usual exhaust tone, smoke coming from the tailpipe or a backfiring exhaust could mean problems or damage to the high-temperature exhaust and emission control system on the vehicle. Have vehicles inspected and repaired as soon as possible if exhaust or emission control problems are suspected.

Avoid smoking. If you must smoke, use your vehicle ashtray.

Drive according to posted speed limits and other traffic rules. Remain alert to changing road conditions at all times.

If a fire occurs:
Stop – If possible, pull to the side of the road and turn off the ignition. Pulling to the side makes it possible for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely. Turn off the ignition to shut off the electric current and stop the flow of gasoline. Put the vehicle in park or set the emergency brake; you don’t want the vehicle to move after you leave it. Keep the hood closed because more oxygen can make the fire larger.

Get out – Make sure everyone gets out of the vehicle. Then move at least 100 feet away. Keep traffic in mind and keep everyone together. There is not only danger from the fire, but also from other vehicles moving in the area.

Call for Help – Call 9-1-1 or the emergency number for your local fire department. Firefighters are specially trained to combat vehicle fires. Never return to the vehicle to attempt to fight the fire yourself. Vehicle fires can be tricky, even for firefighters.

Published 10-12-07