Escape Planning Can Protect Your Family

Courtesy of HouseMaster Home Inspections
Richard Golombia - 403-244-3034

Escape Planning Can Protect Your Family


Despite fire prevention education efforts and individual homeowner safety precautions, fires can still occur in any home at any time.  While fires themselves may not always be preventable, in many cases the injuries they cause can be prevented.

The National Fire Protection Association (NPFA) has piloted programs on fire safety and escape planning to help occupants of homes and apartments improve the safety of their residences. The beginning of the heating season is an especially good time to consider fire safety, as malfunctioning heating systems, defective chimneys and fireplaces, and the use of portable heating devices are major contributing factors for fires.

Certainly, one of the most important steps in fire safety is to install smoke detectors and check them monthly to be sure the alarm functions properly.  Most fatal fires occur while people are sleeping. Without a smoke alarm, you may not wake up soon enough to avoid the toxic gasses and extreme heat that can move through a home ahead of the flames.   According to fire experts, once a smoke detector sounds, there may only be 2½ minutes or less to escape.  Sleeping with bedroom doors closed, which keeps heat and smoke out for a short time, may give you a few extra minutes.

With so little time to escape, it’s critical to have an emergency escape plan that everyone in the home is aware of and that is rehearsed before it is too late. 

According to the NFPA, basic steps in developing an escape plan include: 


Step 1: Consider Escape Routes

The first step in creating an escape plan is to draw a floor plan of your home—one for each level of the house (you can download a printable Escape Planning Grid from the NFPA website).  It’s important that the drawing clearly show windows and doorways, as well as where individuals sleep.  Label bedrooms, and show stairs, hallways, and roofs that could be used as fire escape routes.


Step 2: Survey Your Home

Next, check each bedroom for two possible escape routes, which may be through doors or windows.  Test windows to make sure they open easily, are large enough to accommodate the family member who will use it, and are low enough for children to operate on their own.  Security bars on windows can create deadly blocks to escape. A means of quick release for emergencies must be provided.  Make sure all occupants know how to operate any window or door locks from inside the rooms.

This survey will help highlight the potential difficulty of escaping in the event of a fire.  In some cases, escape ladders may need to be provided for emergency routes from the upper-story windows.  Or, it may be necessary to rearrange sleeping locations to bedrooms to provide easier escape routes for children or for elderly or disabled family members. If you live in an apartment building, do not plan to use the elevator to escape.


Step 3: Map Escape Routes

Just as is often found in hotel rooms, the floor plan should be marked to highlight the preferred way out—such as through a doorway, down the stairs, and out a hall—from each room on the floor plan.  Different indicators such as different colored arrows should be used to show secondary emergency routes in case the primary escape routes are blocked.  In addition, indicate a safe location, outdoors and away from the house, for everyone to meet after they exit.

If the map is too complicated to easily understand the routes with all the different markings, creating individual maps showing escape routes from each bedroom or floor of the house may help. 


Step 4: Discuss and Practice the Plan

Once the plan is complete, hold a series of family meetings to explain escape plans and make sure everyone understands the best routes to safety.  Then at least annually run a fire drill to practice the escape routes, particularly those that may involve more difficult escape routes such as windows or ladders.  In addition to making sure these are shared and practiced with all family members, the maps should be provided to any guests.


For additional information on fire safety and details on planning escape routes, visit the NFPA website.


Note: These tips are only general guidelines. Since each situation is different, contact a professional if you have questions about a specific issue. More home safety and maintenance information is available online at

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