Spring ahead with smoke alarm checks and escape plan

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Daylight Saving Time begins this Sunday, and we all know what that means: Turn the clocks ahead one hour and check every smoke alarm in the house.

That first activity isn’t necessarily fun. Who wants to lose an hour of sleep?

But the second – checking your smoke alarms – is vital! It’s a key part of keeping your family safe from one of the most common disasters, a home fire. In fact, in a typical year, the death toll from home fires is higher than the toll from all natural disasters combined.

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire. That’s why the American Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through our annual Home Fire Campaign.

If you think home fires only happen to “somebody else,” think again.

“In just one year, the Red Cross was called to help nearly 4,300 people who were driven from their homes by fires in northern Ohio,” said Tim O’Toole, who heads up disaster response for the Red Cross in over 31 northern Ohio counties. And that doesn’t count those who didn’t need Red Cross assistance. 

You can help keep your family safe by taking two simple steps:

  • Think through and practice a two-minute home escape plan with your family. (Don’t forget your pets!)
  • Test your smoke alarms every month. (No, it’s not enough to test them a couple of times a year.)

To create a worthwhile home fire escape plan, include at least two ways to get out of every room (doors, windows) and then practice it until every member of your family, old and young, can do it in two minutes or less. Teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like and what to do in an emergency. (Don’t hide! And don’t assume it’s a false alarm.)

Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half.

In addition to testing all alarms monthly, change the batteries once a year (if your models use batteries). Check the date on the alarms; if they’re more than 10 years old, they need to be replaced as the sensors get less sensitive over time.

In 2014, the Red Cross began its Home Fire Campaign to join with fire departments and other safety-minded organizations across the country to cut fire-related deaths and injuries by 25%.

Since then, we’ve installed more than 2.1 million free smoke alarms, reached more than 1.6 million children with preparedness programs and made nearly 900,000 households safer with safety education. Most importantly, we’ve documented more than 800 lives saved.

Please do your part, for your family and your community: Make a plan, check your smoke alarms. Visit soundthealarm.org for more information or to get involved.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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