Reflecting on Home Fire Preparedness and Safety

By Carol Grinage, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas

Twenty-twenty hindsight is just that — hindsight. Life throws events, both good and bad, our way, and when this happens, we sometimes wish we had prepared better. This is especially the case when it comes to life disasters because none of us think one we will happen to us. We think it could happen to that other person but not us.  

Think about it. We buy car insurance in case we have a car accident. We don’t think we will have a car accident, but we buy the insurance “just in case” (and because it is the law in many places). In contrast, when it comes to other negative life events that seem less likely to happen, such as floods and fires, we hesitate to prepare despite the ease in doing so. 

One such case comes with the use of smoke alarms. You have had the experience of being in a deep, mind-numbing sleep when you hear a beep, beep, beep. One part of your mind says, “What is that noise?” The other part responds, “It is the smoke alarm — the battery is dying.”  

Because the sleep feels so good, you decide to ignore the beeps. Sadly, this is impossible. In a dream-induced haziness, you stumble to the alarm, grab a chair, and haul yourself up to rip out the battery thinking you will deal with replacing it in the morning.  

Morning comes, and, of course, you don’t deal with it because life happens. You figure you will change the battery later that day but then remember that you must buy batteries. And every time you go to the store, you forget to buy batteries, and eventually, you forget you need batteries until you wake up one night to a smoke-filled bedroom. Your family and pets make it out, but your home is destroyed.  

The firefighters and police officers interview you, and you confess that the smoke alarm nearest the bedroom did not have batteries. 

The best preparation for any disaster is to prepare with the what could happen and work your plan backwards. The above story is not real, but it could happen. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), approximately “three of every five home fire deaths results from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40%) or no working smoke alarms (17%)”. In addition, no smoke alarms were present in 40% of home fire deaths. In home fires in which smoke alarms were present but did not sound, forty-three percent of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries (Statistics from nfpa.org). 

These statistics are pretty grim, but they serve as a warning of what could happen. Hindsight is 20/20, but let’s make it so we don’t have to think of “hindsight”.

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