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Fire Emergencies

Knowing just what to do in an emergency can save your life, so take the time to go over the fire tips and guidelines below.

What Every Home Needs
Every household should be equipped with working smoke detectors. You should place a smoke detector near every entrance point of your home, near every bedroom and on every floor. Make it a habit to test your smoke detectors every month. A good way to remember is to test them during a routine monthly event, such as when you pay your electrical bill.

It is a good idea to replace the batteries every six months, whether they seem to need replacement or not. More and more fire departments are also recommending the installation of carbon monoxide detectors. Positioning one in a central location on each floor is an important safety measure.

You should have at least one fire extinguisher on every floor and every member of your house (apart from the very young) should know where extinguishers are stored and how to use them. Keep the instructions stored with each device for quick reference.

Since many small fires occur in the kitchen, it is important to keep a fire extinguisher handy there, one rated for all types of fires, including grease. Don't store it where it will be hidden from view or hard to reach. The last thing you want to do when your Crepe Suzette sets the stovetop on fire is to struggle to get to your fire extinguisher.

Getting Out
If your home has any living area above ground level (multi-level or multi-story), you should have an escape ladder in every bedroom, stored in an easy-to-reach place (under the bed is often ideal). Don't store the ladder where it is high up or hard to get to, like the back of a crowded closet, where it may become blocked from easy access. An escape ladder will be of help to no one if it is packed in a trunk beneath your old scuba gear or behind your child's collection of abandoned toys.

Do a practice run with your kids or older members of the family to make sure they know how to attach the ladder to the right exit opening. This is an important step because an emergency is not the time to discover that the ladder doesn't fit inside a window or that your window screens are difficult to remove.

What to Do
The scariest of household emergencies is a fire. Two of the most common household fires are cooking grease fires and chimney and roof fires.

Pan Grease Fires

Grease fires must be smothered in order to put them out. Never use water—it will only cause the fire to spread. If grease ignites in a pot or pan on your stovetop, turn off the heat and quickly cover the pan with a lid. If the pan has no lid, use a metal covering such as a cookie sheet to smother the flame.

Make sure the fire has been completely extinguished before you lift the lid. Cover your hands with flame retardant heat mitts in case the lid has retained heat. If you have nothing to serve as a lid or if the fire has spread to the range-top, use a fire extinguisher rated for grease fires or a fire-extinguishing blanket rated for this purpose.

Oven Grease Fire

If you have an oven grease fire, do not open the oven door. Turn off the heat and let the fire burn out. Make sure the fire is completely out before you open the door. Open windows to help clear the smell of smoke.

Chimney Fire

When a chimney or stovepipe has not been properly maintained or cleaned, soot and creosote (a highly combustible residue that clings to chimney walls), can ignite. This is evidenced by flames and sparks erupting from the chimney, usually accompanied by a loud whooshing noise.

If you experience a chimney fire, it is important to get everyone out of the house and to safety, and then to call the fire department. These fires can expel flames and sparks out both ends of the chimney and may ignite your roof without your knowing.

Chimney fires can smolder silently until they engulf your roof, so they are not to be ignored. The best way to deal with a chimney and roof fire is to prevent it altogether. Keep your chimney clean with regular maintenance and cleanings.

Hammer Have a question? Visit our household emergencies forum to ask all your emergency questions.