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Tahlequah firefighter Brandon Simmons demonstrates the PASS method of using a fire extinguisher: pull pin, aim, squeeze handle, and sweep at the base of the fire.

A forgotten candle. A malfunctioning floor heater. Lightning from a thunderstorm.

In the blink of an eye, a fire can destroy.

When an unexpected fire sparks in your home, does your family know how to safely react and escape danger? How do you get out, and where do you go?

While the weekend to set clocks forward is generally known as a time to also change the batteries in smoke alarms, fire safety experts also say it’s a good time to review – or create – your home escape plan.

Like other parents, OSU Family and Consumer Sciences Educator Heather Winn pays close attention to her children’s safety, so it was a little tough to admit she had not practiced a fire escape plan with her children.

“But we should – we need to,” said Winn. “We need to have a plan and practice it regularly.”

She’s not alone; in fact, Winn’s part of the majority.

Only about 25 percent of families in the U.S. have created and practiced a home fire escape plan, according to data provided to the American Red Cross by the U.S. Fire Administration. Furthermore, says the USFA, 80 percent of Americans are unaware that home fires are the “single most common disaster across the nation.”

Having that plan can be the difference between life and death.

“Too often, people panic in this situation because they do not know what to do,” said Winn.

Tahlequah Fire Department gives public education lessons on fire safety, and hopes to make a difference in someone’s life through its educational smoke trailer.

“The trailer shows safety around the home, usually focusing on kindergarten through second grade,” said TFD Public Information Officer Casey Baker.

Lessons learned through the trailer – proper fireplace protocol, keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, never placing extension cords under rugs, etc. – may prevent families from ever having to use a fire escape plan. As a measure of caution, though, firefighters want people to be prepared.

“You need to have a smoke alarm on every level of your home – that’s a minimum,” said Baker. “Obviously, the more you have, the better.”

When teaching baby sitters fire safety, Winn tells them to get down on the floor and crawl low during home fires.

“Both smoke and heat rise, so if you stay between 12 and 36 inches off the floor, you will avoid the high heat and toxic fumes,” said Winn.

Before opening doors, check the knob.

“If you’re at home and wake up with the smoke alarm going off, touch the door to see if it’s hot,” said Baker.

Check for smoke coming in around the frame; open doors carefully and slowly if it’s cool enough to do so; and open the door just “a little, so it will be easy to close if you detect a fire,” said Winn.

“Close doors behind you. Remember that closed doors will slow the flow of oxygen to the fire and give you added time to escape,” she added, citing from a pamphlet the OSU Extension Service distributes.

When smoke, heat or fire blocks an exit, a person should remain in the room with the door closed, placing a towel under the door to block smoke from entering, recommends the American Red Cross.

Call the fire department (in Cherokee County, callers should dial 911) and tell the dispatcher of your location in the residence.

“Go to the window and signal for help [by] waving a bright-colored cloth or a flashlight,” suggests the Red Cross in its literature. “Do not break the window, but open it from the top and bottom.”

Baker says all escape plans should have secondary exits for all rooms, as well as include a permanent meeting spot outside the residence.

“The big oak tree, a neighbor’s house, the telephone poll, the mailbox,” suggests Baker. “Not something like a car, that might be moved or in different locations.”

Once out of the house, stay out, says Baker.

“I know it’s tough, wanting to go [back] in [for someone], but when we show up on the scene, we haven’t been to that home, so we can ask them, ‘Is everybody out?’ If not, you can explain where that person is, how to get to that person,” said Baker.

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