React Quickly to Fire!

Many lives can be saved if people develop a plan of action and follow that plan by reacting immediately when a fire alarm sounds. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that approximately 80 percent of all fire deaths in the United States and Canada occur in the home. Roughly 11 people per day die in home fires in the U.S. and Canada. Once a fire starts, there is no time to develop a plan. The NFPA urges everyone to “Know When to Go.”


If a Smoke Detector Sounds

  • If a smoke detector sounds in your home, leave immediately – do not investigate.
  • Alert others in your home and leave immediately.
  • Test doors with the back of your hand before opening them. If the door is warm, use an alternate escape route.
  • Use windows as alternate exits.
  • If you must exit through smoke, crawl low, keeping your head 12 to 24 inches above the floor, where the air is cleaner.
  • When you are outside, go to your meeting place.
  • Call the Fire Department using a neighbor’s phone, portable phone or fire alarm box.


Know What to Do

  • Know at least two escape exits out of every room.
  • Practice your escape plan with an exit drill every six months.
  • Pick a meeting place outside your home where everyone can gather once they’ve left the building.
  • Keep exit paths clear of furniture and clutter.
  • Make sure the number of your home is clearly visible from the street.

Special Situations

  • If possible, the elderly and people with mobility disability should sleep on the ground floor.
  • Make designated plans for anyone who may need special assistance in escaping.
  • Inform the fire department immediately if someone in your household may have difficulty escaping from a fire.


Plan ahead. Consult your building management or fire department and proper fire procedures in advance. In some residences, such as high-rise apartment buildings, the safest action, in cases of fire, may be to stay inside the dwelling unit and protect yourself from smoke until the fire department arrives. Some building evacuation plans may require you to go to a “safe area” inside the building and wait for the fire department before evacuating.

  • When a fire alarm sounds
  • If you can hear instructions over your building’s public address systems, do as you are told.

If You Stay

  • Stay calm and take steps to protect yourself.
  • If possible, go to a room with an outside window or balcony and a telephone.
  • Close all doors between you and the fire. Stuff the cracks around your door with towels, rags or duct tape and cover vents to keep smoke out of the room.
  • If there is a phone in the room call the fire department and tell them of your exact location – even if you see fire trucks outside.
  • Wait at a window and signal for help by either using a flashlight or waving a sheet or light-colored cloth.
  • If possible, open the window at the top and bottom, but do not break the window. Be ready to close the window quickly if smoke rushes in.
  • Be patient. Rescuing all the occupants of a high-rise building can take several hours.

If You Go

  • Follow your building’s evacuation plans exactly unless there is immediate danger. Proceed cautiously, checking each door your encounter for heat and each corridor or stairwell for smoke. If you encounter smoke or flames at any point, seek an alternate exit route. If one isn’t available, return to your room, protect yourself from smoke and wait for the firefighters
  • Never use elevators during a fire.
  • If you must exit through smoke, crawl low, under it where the air is cleaner.
  • As you exit, close all doors behind you to prevent the spread of smoke and/or flames.
  • Once you are out, do not go back inside under any circumstance; tell the fire department if anyone is trapped inside.

Plan Ahead

  • Learn your building’s evacuation plans. Be familiar with the sound of the fire alarm.
  • Learn the location of all pull stations that activate your building’s fire alarm, and how to use them.
  • Post emergency numbers near all phones.
  • Know at least two escape routes from your apartment or condo and pick a meeting place outside.
  • Learn the fastest route to your building’s fire exits so that you can find them, even in the dark.