Two tragic home fires underscore deadly risks of trying to save a loved one from a home fire, and the extreme importance of home escape planning and practice
In the past week, two tragic home fires underscored the deadly potential of trying to save a loved one from a home fire. The incidents also reinforce the value of developing a home escape plan and practicing it regularly with all members of the household.
Last Friday, a woman in Beltsville, MD, escaped a home fire but re-entered the house to save her daughter. Unbeknownst to the mother, her daughter had already escaped to the outside, but she died inside while searching for her. On early Wednesday morning, a man died in a West Warwick, RI, home fire after working to awaken his sleeping uncle. The uncle escaped, believing his nephew was right behind him, but in actuality had become trapped inside and perished.
In both incidents, the efforts and intentions of a family member trying to save a loved one from a home fire were overwhelmingly understandable and noble, but tragically contributed to their heartbreaking outcomes.
A central feature of a home escape plan is having an outside meeting place in front of the home where everyone knows to meet. This practice helps quickly and accurately identify household members who have escaped safely and those who are still inside or unaccounted for.
Another key message behind home escape planning and practice is “get outside, stay outside.” As simple as this behavior may sound, it can be a painfully challenging one to follow in a real-life fire situation. But because today’s home fires burn faster than ever, generating toxic smoke and gases that make it difficult or impossible to see and breathe within moments, the safest course of action is to get out as quickly and safely as possible and to alert firefighters to anyone trapped inside. Firefighters have the gear and training to go inside a burning building. For everyone else, re-entering a burning building or delaying your own escape presents grave risks.
Overall, NFPA’s data shows that the number of U.S. home fires is declining, but the death toll incurred by them is not. In other words, while people are getting better at preventing home fires from happening, when home fires do occur, people are continuing to struggle to escape safely.
Clearly, much work is still needed to be done in better educating the public about their real risk to home fires, and the critical value of home escape planning and practice. To increase awareness around these messages in your community, use and share NFPA’s home escape planning and practice resources, which offer step-by-step guidance, tools, and support for getting started.