Before the age of six, I watched as building after building burned to the ground. I lived in the middle of what many New York City firefighters call the Arson Wars.
My mother packed a bag of essentials for my brother and I and kept it right outside our bedroom door. I remember her waking me up in the middle of the night and grabbing the bag.
“There’s another fire. We have to go.”
I stood and watched as the men in my family sprayed the roof and sides of our home with a water hose while flames licked up nearby buildings.
Multifamily apartment houses were built close to each other, maximizing precious real-estate, building up instead of out. Only an alley separated my home from the flames. Fire jumped, consuming apartment house after apartment house.
These buildings were full of mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. Each building housed six, eight, and ten families. They were full to overflowing with laughter and tears, fighting and heartache. Real people lost everything. Fire stole every earthly possession from members of my extended family.
Nearly every day a house in my region is destroyed by fire. They are old and they have old electrical and heating systems. People lose everything in these house fires and in too many cases, lives are taken in flames.
The most responsible thing we can do for ourselves and our families is to be prepared. Fire consumes.
1. Have a Plan
Ask yourselves a few simple questions.
- What would I do if there was a fire?
- Are my children prepared?
- Do we have a meeting place?
You have a plan for your marriage, your finances, and your children, but do you have a fire safety plan?
Make a plan on paper.
Hopefully you will never need to use it, but a few minutes of preparedness could save your life.
- Designate escape routes. You should have at least two exits from your home. If you have multiple floors, locate an exit, a path of escape from each floor. Also, locate two exits from each room. The door is your first choice, but have a second.
- Learn basic fire safety tips and teach them to your children – Smoke rises, so crawl. Feel a door before you open it; fire may be on the other side. Cover your mouth with cloth or a pillow to avoid smoke inhalation.
- Designate a meeting place. When you and your family escape your house, designate a place far enough from your home to meet.
2. Install Interconnected Smoke Alarms
Interconnected smoke alarms are multiple smoke detectors placed strategically throughout your home. They are all wired together, so when one alarm is triggered, they all ring simultaneously. You cannot sleep through three or four or five smoke alarms all ringing at the same time. You will hear them everywhere in your home.
You will need to hire an electrician, but your family is worth more than a few hundred dollars.
If you honestly do not have the money to hire an electrician, buy several battery operated smoke detectors and place them on each floor of your home and in each bedroom.
Remember to replace the batteries.
3. Update Wiring
My husband is an electrician and I hear first-hand accounts of fires that started due to faulty wiring. If you have a older home, make sure your wiring is up-to-date. Electrical codes change, as do fire codes. Be sure to upgrade the wiring in your home. My husband likes to say “Don’t wire for fire.”
Do not assume that because the electricity works in your home, you have no electrical problems.
4. Move Furniture
Move furniture and curtains away from electrical baseboard heaters.
Choose safety over perfection when it comes to home decor.
You should check manufacturer guidelines for specific clearance recommendations, but it is a good rule of thumb not to have furniture closer than eight inches away from baseboard heaters.
5. Maintain Heating Systems
Whether your heating system is powered by electricity, oil or gas, maintain your system. Regular maintenance will not only ensure safety, but it will also cause your heating system to work at optimal efficiency.
The memories of fire from childhood are still fresh in my mind. We are vigilant about fire safety, because we know it can happen, even to us.
It is my prayer that you will take this basic reminder to educate yourselves and your family on fire safety and prevention. If nothing else, buy a smoke alarm and change the batteries.
Be safe my friends.
And yes, that’s little me in those photos.