Shay Smith, contributing writer

Only half of all parents believe their kids would know what to do in case of a fire — and even fewer have ever practiced an escape plan, according to the United States Fire Administration (USFA). Here are three tips from the USFA that can help you reduce the chances of a fire starting in your home and protect your loved ones in case one does occur.

Keep your smoke alarms ready.
  • Press the test button on every smoke alarm in your home once a month. Include your kids in this practice so they become familiar with how the alarms sound. This is a good time to recap your family’s fire-escape plan.
  • Replace smoke-alarm batteries every six months. Some families like to do this the same day they change their clocks for daylight saving time as a way to keep it a matter of routine.
  • Check the manufacture date on your smoke alarm. Because alarm sensitivity decreases with age, it’s important to replace units 10 years or older. (If there is a code instead of a date, the alarm was manufactured before 1999.) Even if your home has a hardwired security system that detects fire, you still need separate battery-operated smoke alarms.
Make an escape plan.

Create an exit strategy that gets your family out of the house as safely and quickly as possible. Review and practice your fire plan during the day and at night.

  • Have a plan for young children who cannot get outside by themselves.  In your plan, discuss who will help babies or young children who need help getting out safely.
  • Know two ways out of every room. It is important to find two ways out of every room in the house, in case one exit is blocked or dangerous to use (see graphic on this page).
  • Choose a meeting place outside the home. Children should know what to do when they hear a smoke alarm and there is no adult around. Help them practice going to a designated outside meeting place. Teach them to never go back inside a building that is on fire.
Learn to use a fire extinguisher.

Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, master bedroom, garage and hallway near other bedrooms.

A fire extinguisher should only be used if the flames aren’t growing and are contained in a small area, the air is mostly smoke-free, the room temperature is comfortable and you have access to a clear exit. If the fire fits into this category, think PASS:

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim low (point the nozzle at the fire’s base).
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle carefully from side to side.