How to Create the Ultimate Family and Pet Fire Escape Plan

It may seem like a simple oversight to not have a family fire escape plan, or to practice one on a regular basis, however, no schedule should be so busy that a fire escape plan doesn’t exist at all.

There is no shame in having a busy schedule filled to the brim with appointments, meetings, activities, extracurriculars, self-care, holidays, homework, cooking, cleaning, and, of course, everything else that comes with just living. Every single one of us are probably just flying by the seat of our pants, figuring this out as we go – no blueprints or templates to reference – nothing. And that’s OK! I’m just here to remind you of how incredibly necessary it is to create, plan, and prepare for the just in case.

Have you thought about:

What will I do if there is a fire and I can’t get to my elderly parent?/s?

How am I going to make it to the nursery to grab my baby in case of a fire?

How am I going to get the cats and dogs together if I’m panicking and they’re panicking?

Will my kids have enough wherewithal to know there is a fire?

Will my kids hear me if I’m telling for them?

How will we get off the second floor?

None of these are pleasant to think about, and truth be told, not one of us probably wants to spend time thinking about these. Yet, without falling too deep into the “what if” trap, let’s just come up with a nice, safe way to prepare for the worst and to plan, plan, plan. Fire safety and prevention plans shouldn’t be brushed aside, and there’s no better time than now to begin preparing that family and pet fire escape plan.

Reminder: Family and pet fire escape plans are not just a one-and-done plan that you discuss once, or even every once and a while. Ideally, they are practiced about once a month. The hardest part is coming up with a plan that makes sense for the entire family. The easiest part is practicing it so everyone is on board.

Plan

  1. With everyone in the household together, complete a walkthrough if the home and make notes on a piece of paper of all possible fire escape routes. This is a rough draft for when you sit down to actually plan the final escape routes. Right now, you’re becoming familiar with possibilities.
  2. Print off a fire escape route template. In a clean, clear way, simply draw the layout of your house, labeling all the rooms, doors, and windows.
  3. Use the list of possible escape routes you jotted down during your walkthrough and designate two escape routes for each room on the fire escape map. This may be pretty cut-and-dry as most homes only have two escape routes per room at most. However, not every home has easy possibilities like this, so this step is still important.
  4. With a bright-colored marker clearly label the routes of escape in each room. This should be clear and easy for everyone to read.
  5. Designate a meeting spot outside where everyone is to meet once the house has been vacated. This should be across the street on a sidewalk, at a neighbor’s house, in the parking lot, in an empty field, etc. Wherever you guys agree on, it needs to be far enough away that you’re out of danger and can call the fire department. Add this spot to the escape map.
  6. Go over the fire escape routes together and make sure everyone understands the map clearly.

Practice

  1. Now that you’ve planned the fire escape route and you have gone over it, walk through the house with the fire escape map in hand, and go over the escape routes from each room together.
  2. As you walk through, point out the two escape routes and make sure everyone understands each route before moving on to the next room.
  3. If windows need to be unlocked, make sure to demonstrate to them how to unlock them so that everyone knows how to unlock and open the windows. If an escape ladder needs to be accessed, make sure everyone knows how to access the escape ladder. It is important that everyone is capable of utilizing the escape routes properly before moving on.
  4. If there are infants or family members with mobility limitations, assign a member of the family who will be responsible for assisting during a fire drill.
  5. Assign family members who will be responsible for the pets in the house, too. This is easier with pets that are crated regularly and that stay in the same spots. However, with pets that like to hide, it’s important to discuss common hiding spots so they are more easily located.

Drill

  1. While the fire drill should be as realistic as possible, it shouldn’t frighten or scar children or pets. As a matter of fact, children play vital roles in creating, practicing and executing fire escape plans, so they should not enter this duty with unnecessary, crippling fear. Before running a surprise fire drill at night, inform younger children that there will be a fire drill so they are prepared, educated, and empowered to fulfill their very important duties.
  2. Call “Fire!” or use the test alarm sound on your fire alarm to initiate the drill. Unless the drill is a surprise drill, everyone should plan to be in a room where most of their time is spent so the drill feels as real as possible.
  3. Make sure that every person can escape from each room. Have the family members change rooms during each fire drill so their knowledge and memory of every room’s escape rooms remains fresh. If there are multiple floors, make sure each person is capable of escaping successfully on each floor.
  4. Make sure everyone participating in the drill knows to shut each door behind them as they move closer to the escape route. This will slow down the spread of smoke and fire in a real-case scenario. If there were unlocated pets in the house during the drill, leave an escape route open to the outside so the pet can find its way out.
  5. Once everyone has reached the designated safety spot outside and all are accounted for, ensure that everyone who is able can recite the emergency number. This is very important as time is of the essence.

Tips

  • Always keep your fire escape routes clear of clutter and obstacles! Clutter and obstacles will not only stop you from being able to escape your house, but will fuel a fire.
  • Keep your escape map hung up in an easily-located place for everyone to see. A refrigerator is a great place for this.
  • Always make sure fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working at all times.
  • If you have pets, try to keep a pet emergency grab bag close to the exits. Pets will become frightened in case of an emergency and may try to escape or run back into the house. Leashes or duffel bags are a good idea as long as they are easy to grab. When going through a drill, make sure to incorporate this pet emergency bag in your drill.
  • Keep pets near entrances and exits of rooms so they are not trapped without escape routes. This will allow them the opportunity to escape on their own if need be.
  • Never allow pets to roam around open flames or hazardous areas.
  • Keep young and especially untrained pets in crates so they are in one place.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Educational Fire Safety Videos for Families & Pets

Resources:

https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Staying-safe/Preparedness/Escape-planning

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