home fire importance of escape plan

Avoid Errors or Fatalities with Your Home Fire Escape Plan by Practicing

by Rebekah Brown

The United States averages 2,708 civilian deaths and 11,320 injuries each year from home fires. After all, it only takes between 30 seconds and five minutes for a flame to spread and a house to be filled with smoke. A plan to escape in such an emergency will ensure that you and your family can make the best use of precious seconds to escape a burning home safely. 

In this article, we’ll give you detailed steps on developing your own home fire escape plan, discuss important elements that often get forgotten, and useful tips for safety gear that can reduce the risk of injury. 

Table of Contents

  • 01

    Why Every Home Needs a Fire Escape Plan

  • 02

    Creating Your Fire Safety Plan

  • 03

    Most Importantly: Implement Your Fire Evacuation Plan

  • 04

    Practice Makes Perfect: Regular Fire Drills

  • 05

    Additional Safety Tips and Tools

  • 06

    Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • 07

    Staying Safe

Why Every Home Needs a Fire Escape Plan 

House fires are more common than you might think. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by creating and regularly practicing a home fire escape plan every six months to make sure all household members know exactly what to do if there is a fire. It's imperative that every member knows the different ways out of every room.

There are around 378,000 house fires per year in the United States. Many households neglect to create a fire escape strategy because they don’t think they will need one. But the causes of home fires are usually normal activities:

  • Cooking (the most common cause)

  • Heating (space heaters, baseboard heat, furnaces, etc.)

  • Indoor smoking

  • Electrical malfunctions
    chart about home fires
Source:  U.S. Fire Administration

Tragically, news outlets report each year on parents who died running back into a burning building because they weren’t sure if their child had made it out yet. Ensuring an efficient, safe way to get all family members quickly out of the home safeguards all lives in the house. 

The National Institute of Health reports that only 15.9% of households actually have a safety strategy that they practice every six months. Because home blazes spread so quickly, there is no time to make decisions or think of a sound strategy if things catch on. The best way to save lives is to have the home escape strategy worked out in advance and memorized by all household members. 

Creating Your Fire Safety Plan

There are some common elements to all strategies that involve escaping house blazes. These include: 

  • Identifying exits (at least two ways out of every room)

  • Installing smoke alarms & fire extinguishers

  • Maintaining accessible personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • Choosing an assembly point outside the house

We’ll cover how to address each of these items and tailor it for your specific situation. Remember, the time for decision-making is before an emergency arises – house blazes can burn down entire buildings within minutes, and by then your household members should all be safely outside the building. 

Step 1: Assess Your Home’s Layout

The number one goal of your escape strategy is to get all household members out of the burning building as quickly and safely as possible. 

Your planning will differ depending upon your home’s layout. Draw a floor plan of your home on a piece of paper and identify all the external doors and windows. Each of these is a way out of the building. Then, identify the positioning of the smoke alarms.

Ideally, the smoke alarm sounds should be able to reach every room in the house. This ensures that every member in the house would be alerted in case of an emergency, and can execute on the home escape strategy.

You should mark two ways out of every room. This is because a spreading fire might block one exit, so you need to be able to get outside through multiple routes. 

U.S. building codes mandates that every bedroom contain at least one “egress window,” meaning a window large enough for a person to exit through it in case of a fire. 

On your floor plan, draw a line marking all the routes out of the house. Ensure that there is nothing blocking the ways out of the building, like furniture in front of an exterior door or a pile of boxes in front of a window.  

Step 2: Install Smoke Alarms & Fire Extinguishers 

Smoke alarms are crucial for early fire detection. Approximately three out of five deaths in house fires happen in homes with no working smoke alarms

woman checking smoke detector
source: EPA & FEMA


Where to install smoke alarms:

  • Inside each sleeping area

  • Outside each sleeping area

  • In the basement

  • On each floor of the house

To ensure that your smoke alarms are functioning properly:

  • Test them once a month by pushing the button and listening for a beep.

  • Make sure they’re interconnected. If they all ring when one rings, it means you've safely connected them together.

  • Keep extra batteries on hand so that you replace old batteries promptly.

  • Make sure they’re loud enough to wake the heaviest sleepers in your house.

  • Purchase “strobe alarms” if there are deaf or hard-of-hearing household members.

Fire extinguishers are an oft-overlooked safety necessity in homes. One study reported that only 3 out of 5 American households had a fire extinguisher. You may want to put one strategically in your house so you can attend to smaller blazes.

home fire smoke detector fire extinguisher at home
Source: TheZebra.com


Step 3: Personal Protective Equipment for Fire Emergencies

Smoke can fill a home in under five minutes, causing suffocation and impairing your ability to think properly. Staying low to the ground while following your escape route can help reduce smoke inhalation. There is also personal protective equipment that can help protect you from smoke, including:

  • Fire hoods

  • Gas masks

  • Escape ladders

  • Child-sized respirators

Each family member should learn how to use their PPE kit properly. They should be stored within easy reach, like inside each person’s bedroom and near external doors. 

home fire mira safety particlemax filter
Source: MIRA Safety


Please remember that these are designed to help each person escape the building successfully – under no circumstances should you reenter a burning house. Leave that to professional firefighters. 

An action step you can take today: purchase a fire escape kit to ensure that all family members are protected. Each kit includes a full-face respirator, two VK-530 smoke & carbon monoxide filter cartridges, and a tactical drop-leg pouch for easy deployment in an emergency. 

If you have children in your home, their lungs are even more vulnerable to smoke inhalation. Our Child Escape Respirator is specifically designed to help infants and children breathe safely through emergencies and can be easily stored in a backpack or closet for easy access. 

PPE like respirators and filters can help ensure you get out of your home safely and take only seconds to put on. 

Step 4: Designate an Assembly Point (Away from the Fire)

home fire home exit sketch
source: FEMA


It’s critical that your fire safety plan includes an outside meeting place. Make sure each household member and anyone who sleeps over in your home knows the meeting location. Memorable landmarks could be: 

  • Large tree

  • Fire hydrant

  • Driveway

  • Stop sign

  • Neighbors house

Don’t meet inside the house, in an apartment lobby, or on the front porch. Spreading flames, smoke, and structural collapse can weaken the building. It’s  best to stay at least several yards away from the burning building. 

It's imperative that you practice your home escape plan a few times, so every member of the family knows where to meet once they are safely out of the house.

Step 5: Implement Your Fire Evacuation Plan

Finalize your fire escape plan and write it down. 

  • Identify escape routes

  • Teach each person the ways out

  • Include a plan for helping elderly, disabled,  and young household members

  • Make a plan for pets

Some household members need extra assistance, including babies, children, elderly adults, disabled people, and pets.  Make sure that adult household members have assigned tasks, like grabbing the dog or helping the elderly put on their respirators before they head out. 

People with mobility aids, hearing aids, or glasses should always sleep with these items next to the bed for quick access in an emergency. 

home fire escape and exit routes
Source: FEMA

Practice Makes Perfect: Regular Fire Drills 

You have less than two minutes to escape a house fire unharmed. It’s crucial that all household members are included in a fire drill every six months. 

Here are the steps to a successful escape:

  • Review your plan carefully first

  • Practice during the day and in the night

  • Practice avoiding different parts of the home – fires can start anywhere

  • Alert all family members ahead of time

  • Explain the process to children ahead of time to prevent anxiety

  • Practice putting on gas masks

  • Help children practice how to check doors for heat

  • Assign adults to help young, elderly, or disabled household members

  • Help children so they know how to escape on their own

  • Assign adults to remove pets from the building

  • Practice crouching or crawling to escape a room

  • Learn to use an escape ladder from second-story homes

  • Meet at your designated meeting place

  • The first person to the meeting place pretends to call the fire department

  • Time the drill – it should take two minutes to escape safely

The goal of such a drill is to ensure that the escape seems second nature to all members and to avoid any delays. Remember, every second counts. Frequent practice ensures that everyone can escape the building safely as soon as the fire alarms sound. 

home fire remove pets from the house
Source: Summer C on Unsplash


Avoid these common problems for a safer and more effective fire drill:

  • Don’t overthink it – get out of the house the quickest way possible

  • Take it seriously – any time you hear a fire alarm, behave as though there is a real fire

  • Practice frequently with PPE, fire extinguishers, and other tools, especially in the dark

  • Make sure all fire safety equipment is unexpired and in good working order

Additional Safety Tips and Tools

A few simple tips can make your home safer. 

  • Keep exit pathways clear of clutter, boxes, and furniture

  • Never block windows and external doors

  • Make sure exits open easily – no excessive locks

  • Sleep with doors closed to prevent fire spread

  • Remember to test doors for heat before opening them

  • Install fire escape ladders for two-story homes

Fire extinguishers are another useful tool. They are mainly helpful for a small, localized fire that has not gotten out of control. 


home fire safety tips and tricks
Source: Oklahoma State University


Follow these tips for effective fire extinguisher use:

  • Mount them near cooking areas and near power tools

  • Keep one on each floor of the building

  • Practice using it – they are heavier than expected

  • Use the P.A.S.S. technique – Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep to put out small fires

  • Maintain distance – fires can re-ignite

  • If the extinguisher is empty and the fire is not completely out, leave the house and call 911

Review the chart below to ensure that you have the correct class and size of fire extinguisher in your home. 

home fire extinguisher guide
Source: Integral Fire Protection


Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ignoring the plan - Many of us read a safety article like this one, create a plan, and then ignore it until something goes wrong. Don’t do this! Make sure to review your fire escape plan and practice it with all household members. 

Not including everyone – people are more invested in a plan that they helped to create. Ask input from everyone in the home – even kids – and make sure they are all on board with the final plan. 

home fire common mistakes to avoid
Source: FEMA


Not practicing or updating the plan - Things change, and your fire safety plan should be updated regularly. Review your plan regularly. Account for changes in ability, new household members, or different sleeping arrangements. 

Overlooking alternate escape routes – You may not be able to escape through your bedroom or front door in the event of a home fire. Consider all possible ways out of a building.  For example, everyone could escape out of one member’s bedroom window to avoid a blaze on the other side of the house. 

Staying Safe 

The best way to protect your family from a house fire is by creating an escape plan that you practice at least twice a year. 

A fire can completely consume a home in under five minutes. To keep everyone safe, you should: 

  • Identify escape routes

  • Designate a safe outdoor meeting place

  • Keep fire safety equipment in good working order

  • Know at least two ways out

home fire family escape planning
Source: American Red Cross



  1. Home Structure Fires
  2. Home Fires
  3. Residential Fire Estimate Summaries
  4. Prevalence of Residential Smoke Alarms and Fire Escape Plans in the U.S.: Results from the Second Injury Control and Risk Survey (ICARIS-2)
  5. Smoke Alarm Information
  6. Fire Escape Planning