Tips for Holding a Fire Safety Drill

A house fire burning through an attic.

Having an evacuation plan and an actual fire drill are critical elements of any good fire safety plan. If you've created a fire escape plan for your home or office, now is the time to see how effective it is. Hold a fire safety drill. Holding just one drill a year won't work. You need to hold drills frequently, until the response is automatic.

Remember, most fires happen at night, and are unexpected. Minutes, even seconds, count. You or your children may be awakened in the middle of the night and have to move quickly while sleepy, scared, or confused. Only repeated drills where your actions are automatic may save your life.

1. Be Prepared Anytime, AnywhereFirefighters dousing a flame in a home

Throw in unexpected blocks, like having a family member block an exit and shout, "I'm a fire! Go out another way!" or use a piece of cloth draped or pinned across an exit to represent fire or a blocked exit.

Practice different scenarios, like, "It's nighttime and the smoke alarm goes off—what do you do first?" Talk and walk through things like calling 911, waking up other family members, putting on shoes, etc. Make it realistic and talk about what might happen in a real fire.

Hold drills at all times of the day and night. Fire strikes anytime, so practice at all times. Have nighttime drills where family members must use flashlights to escape. Have holiday fire drills, too. Once the Christmas tree or holiday decorations go up, have a drill that takes the new decorations into consideration. Practice fire drills where family members must escape from different rooms, including bedrooms, bathrooms, the kitchen, and the living room.

Make fire safety awareness part of your fire drill. Make sure children know why they should crawl along the floor in a smoky room, and have them check their bedroom door for heat before they open it. Home fire drills shouldn't be just a matter of walking outside. If you have second-story windows, practice using a fire ladder. Deploy it and climb down it. Children in your family should know how to deploy fire ladders, use a fire extinguisher, and call 911.

2. Be Consistent

Smoke detector in front of a flame

Don't be lax with one drill and strict with another. Have fun, but take all drills seriously. Insist that all family members who are present participate, including seniors and people who may be wheelchair-bound. Include baby-sitters, neighbor's kids, and anyone who visits your house regularly. Going through the drill builds teamwork and helps family members learn to depend on each other.

Getting out of the house is step one. Your fire drill should include meeting up outside the house at a predesignated place, like a neighbor's house or a landmark or structure a safe distance from the house.

Appoint one person as "fire marshal." It's their job to trigger the alarm and time the exit. Time your drills. Knowing how fast people are getting out will help you improve your plan. Talk about the fire drill afterward and critique it. What went right, what went wrong? What could you do better next time? Keep records of every drill. In case of a fire, your insurance company will look favorably on this information.