Fires are devastating yet common events that happen unexpectedly and often have a great personal and financial cost. When a fire occurs, it spreads quickly and can engulf a home in as little as five minutes, and its heat and flames threaten the lives of everyone within its path. In the United States, home fires claim the lives of an average of seven people a day. Fortunately, in most cases, fires are preventable.

Install Smoke Alarms

The installation of smoke alarms is a major first step in preventing the spread of fire and reducing the risk of death or serious injury. Alarms alert the occupants of a home when there is a fire. They should be installed on every floor of a home and interconnected. Interconnected alarms make for an effective alert system as they communicate with one another so that they all go off when the first alarm does. Smoke alarms should be placed near sleeping areas as well as in the basement. If a family member has a disability, be sure to buy one appropriate for the disability: For example, a hearing-impaired person should have one that includes flashing lights instead of just an audible alarm.

Regularly Test Smoke Alarms

It isn’t enough to just install smoke alarms throughout the home. They should be inspected regularly and tested to make sure they work. Batteries should be replaced annually, and the entire alarm unit should be replaced every ten years.

Install a Fire Extinguisher

Keep a fire extinguisher in the home to help quickly put out small fires. When buying a fire extinguisher, choose the right type and understand how to properly use it. There are five fire extinguisher types, or classes. Each class puts out a different type of fire. For example, a Class A extinguisher is meant for wood or paper fires, while a Class D extinguisher is used on flammable metals and is generally meant for factories. For the home, people should use a multipurpose extinguisher that combines the abilities of classes A, B, and C. Class B is for use on flammable liquids and grease, and Class C is for use on electrical appliances and equipment. Home use extinguishers may be labeled as B-C or A-B-C extinguishers.

To use a fire extinguisher, remembering the acronym PASS can help. PASS stands for Pull the pin, Aim low, Squeeze the lever slowly, and Sweep from side to side. To ensure they are functioning properly, check them from time to time to make sure the pressure gauge is still in the green zone and the pin is still in place.

Create and Practice a Fire Escape Plan

In the event of a fire, having an emergency escape plan can literally be the difference between life and death. Everyone should take the time to create a fire escape plan and share it with all residents of the home. Emergency plans aren’t just for homes, either; businesses should also have a plan in place to ensure the safe evacuation of employees and customers. Each room should ideally have two escape routes outlined. Everyone should be familiar with these routes, and the plan should be reviewed and practiced once a month. An important part of an escape plan is to determine where members of a household will meet once they’re outside of the home. This should be a familiar location that’s a safe distance from the house.

Avoid Smoking Indoors

In homes where one or more people smoke, there should be clear rules about where they can light up. Cigarette ash and the risk of dozing off while smoking increase the chances of upholstery, carpeting, or bedding catching on fire. Not smoking in the home is particularly important if a resident uses oxygen, as it can cause an explosion and increase the rapid spread of fire. When smoking outdoors, cigarettes must always be completely put out in a can filled with sand or an ashtray and never simply dropped to the ground.

Cook Safely

The kitchen is another area where fire safety rules should be in place. It is arguably one of the most common locations where a house fire is likely to begin. In a kitchen, there is a combination of heat from gas or electric stoves and flammable materials and ingredients. As a result, cooking food should not be left unattended, particularly when frying or broiling. Young children should never be allowed to play in the kitchen or have access to the stove or oven without adult supervision. In general, they should be kept at least 3 feet away from the stove at all times in what is often called the kitchen’s kid-free zone. When adults and older kids are cooking, they should avoid wearing long-sleeved or loose clothing that may come into contact with flames or hot burners. Additionally, paper towels, pot holders, and other items that can catch fire must be kept away from hot surfaces.

Electrical Safety

Electrical appliances and equipment are standard items in most homes. Wires and cords from these items are potential fire hazards if they are damaged or handled improperly. Plan to regularly inspect appliances, computers, and other things that plug in to ensure that there aren’t any fraying or exposed wires. Plug items only into their appropriate outlets, and never force a plug in; a three-prong plug should never be used in a two-prong outlet, for instance.