City Notes: Plan your escape

Today’s homes burn faster and hotter than ever. This is because modern, more efficient materials used in construction in the last 30 years are typically lighter in weight, burning quickly and reducing the amount of time you may have to get to safety.

In fact, residents may have as little as two minutes, sometimes even less, to safely escape a home fire from the time the smoke alarm sounds.

That sounds scary, I know. But advance planning is something you can do with your family to buy time in the event of a house fire. These strategies require preparation ‒ working smoke alarms, sleeping with your doors closed and having an escape plan. In order to encourage this advance planning, this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme is “Fire Won’t Wait, Plan Your Escape.”

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) plans this recognition every year for agencies across the nation to collaborate on public education and awareness about fire safety and prevention. This year, the Westerville Division of Fire (WFD) is asking residents to carefully consider what steps to take in the event of a fire.

It is our hope you and your family never have to execute this plan. WFD’s practice is to get to your home in about five minutes from the time of the 9-1-1 dispatch. But that alone is not a safety plan. Knowing how you will escape from a bedroom and practicing how children, older adults or persons with disabilities will get out safely is key to a survival strategy.

From the moment a smoke alarm sounds, everyone in the house should know what to do and where to go. And once a family member is out of the house, it is critical to stay out. At that point, let the firefighters and first responders do their work.

Since every home and property is different, every home fire-escape plan will be different. Having a plan will eliminate confusion in the crisis. For example, if you have some members of the family who can most safely escape from the back of the house, they should arrange to quickly meet at the front, where firefighters and emergency equipment will be arriving and staging.

Getting reunited as quickly as possible will also eliminate the temptation to re-enter the home for people or property.

Operational smoke alarms mean everything between minutes and seconds. For the best protection, use a combination of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that are interconnected throughout the home. You want to ensure you can hear an alarm, no matter where you are in the home, and one in every sleeping room. Choose an alarm that is listed with a testing laboratory, meaning it has met certain standards for protection.

Also, carefully consider the mobility of family members. Older adults and caretakers of older adults may need to make accommodations in planning, including where trip-and-fall hazards are in the home, as well as how accessible a walker or wheelchair is in an emergency.

Depending on the age of children in the home, talk to them about basic fire safety. Resources for children are on the NFPA website at

Always sleep with your doors closed. Check your doors and windows. Do they open easily, especially in each sleeping room? If not, do they need repairs? Residents should have two escape options from each room. The best way to know ‒ practice a home fire drill with everyone in the household, both during the day and at night.

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If you cannot safely escape a fire, keep the door shut and place a towel or blanket at the bottom of the door and stay near the window. You can use a flashlight to shine out the window and alert emergency personnel. Also, call 9-1-1 to let us know exactly where you are inside the home.

These are tips WFD hopes you never have to use. As unimaginable as it is, preparation for this type of disaster has been shown to save lives.

Learn more about fire safety and prevention with us at our local Fire Prevention Week on Sunday, Oct. 9, 1-3 p.m.

WFD will host an open house at Station 111 (400 W. Main St.) for residents to see and experience our equipment and meet with firefighters and medics. All are welcome, and we hope to see you there.

Find out more at Until then, stay safe, Westerville.

Brian Miller is the fire chief for the Westerville Division of Fire.

This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: City Notes: Plan your escape