By Dr. Elaine Ducharme


When I moved to Connecticut I became a volunteer with the American Red Cross. I have always known about and respected this organization. But I I did not realize how much the Red Cross does on a daily basis.

When people think of disasters they tend to think of things like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes. But, the reality is, the most common disaster to which the Red Cross responds is home fires. I had no idea how many home fires there actually were in CT until I became part of the mental health team that goes to the disaster site whenever there is a death and does follow-up calls to individuals displaced from their homes.

In the CT and Rhode Island region the Red Cross responds to an average of 2 home fires each day. Many of these homes do not have smoke alarms. The Red Cross began a wonderful program in 2014 to reduce the number of deaths and injury from home related fires by 25%. Part of this program is called Sound the Alarm. Save a Life. The Red Cross will visit more than 100 high risk communities in the US and will install 100,000 smoke alarms.

From July 1, 2016-May 30, 2017 CT Red Cross volunteers have visited 2108 homes, installed 5541 smoke alarms, replaced 435 batteries and made 2026 fire escape plans. What a wonderful accomplishment!

I want you all to make sure that you have smoke alarms, that they are in working order. Batteries  should be charged regularly. Change them at least once a year. Please make sure your family has a fire escape plan. The National Fire Protection Association has a very complete outline of what you need to do as well as lots of other very helpful information about fire safety. Below are the basics for a fire escape plan:

  1. Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. For easy planning, download NFPA’s escape planning grid (PDF). This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.
  2. A closed door may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire. Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code® requires interconnected smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  3. Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.
  4. Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor’s house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they’ve escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan.
  5. Go outside to see if your street number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.
  6. Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor’s home or a cellular phone once safely outside.
  7. If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.
  8. If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure that the bars have emergency release devices inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Emergency release devices won’t compromise your security – but they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.
  9. Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family’s fire escape plan. When staying overnight at other people’s homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don’t have a plan in place, offer to help them make one. This is especially important when children are permitted to attend “sleepovers” at friends’ homes. See NFPA’s “Sleepover fire safety for kids” fact sheet.
  10. Be fully prepared for a real fire: when a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately. Residents of high-rise and apartment buildings may be safer “defending in place.”
  11. Once you’re out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

One final tip.

If you are living in a rental unit make sure you have fire insurance. It is actually quite inexpensive and well worth the money in a fire disaster.

Be prepared and be safe!






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