We don't like to think about them, but catastrophic events such as fires, car accidents, and plane crashes kill tens of thousands of people every year. Experts believe one-third of those deaths can be prevented if you know what to do. So add a few things to your shopping and to-do lists, and take a little time to make sure you, and your family, are ready for anything.
Almost all fatal fires occur in a home with no smoke alarm, because the #1 threat from a fire is not heat or flames, but smoke, which can suffocate you in minutes. Follow this guide to get out quickly and safely.
How to Prepare
- Smoke detectors: Check with your local fire marshall to learn the laws about how many you must have. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends having one in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every floor. Change batteries twice a year when you change your clocks.
- Fire extinguishers: Like smoke detectors, the more, the better, but the NFPA advises that they should only be used for small, contained fires. To use, pull the pin, stand back, and spray in sweeping motions over a large area.
- Escape ladders: Every bedroom above the first floor should have a folding escape ladder. They're inexpensive, but fire departments often give them out to families who can't afford them.
- Home escape plan: Create a floor plan with all doors, windows, and escape ladder locations clearly marked. Convene a family meeting twice a year to review the floor plan, practice turning the thermostat off while blindfolded (AC systems feed fires and spread smoke), and discuss your escape plan.
What to Remember
- Check the door: If it's hot, step away. If the door is open and you see smoke or fire, close it.
- Block the smoke: Using blankets or towels, cover the bottom of the door to slow the smoke's entry.
- Get low: The temperature near the ground can be 600 degrees cooler than near the ceiling and the air is clearer.
- Crawl to the window: A room can fill with smoke in as little as 3 minutes, so move quickly. Stay low, crawling on knuckles and knees (the synthetic fibers of rugs can burn your palms). Open the window, and if you're on the first or second floor, jump (a broken bone is better than the other option). If you're higher, stay crouched below the windowsill--it's the first place rescuers will look for you.
If You or Someone You Love Catches Fire
- Stop, drop, and roll if it's you. If it's someone else, smother the flames with a wet towel if you have one, a dry one if not, and put the flames out.
- Get them down if the person is panicking, you may need to use a leg sweep, but get the person on the ground and the fire out.
- Call 911.
- If you can, gently remove the burned clothing. If it is sticks to the skin, keep it cool and wet and leave it alone, then wrap the wounds in a clean sheet.
- Watch for shock. If the person is uncommunicative, delirious, or looks pale, they may be in shock. Use blankets to warm them and elevate their legs to bring blood back to their head.
Car accidents are the disaster you are most likely to face. In 2008, they claimed the lives of 34,000 people. And yet, for most of us, driving is something we do without thinking. But, with just a little forethought, you can prepare yourself for the unthinkable.
How to Prepare
- Stock your glove compartment with small water bottles or pouches of water.
- Snacks with a long shelf life such as energy bars (replace them with fresh ones when you change your smoke alarm batteries).
- Light sticks and string to attract help. If you are trapped in the vehicle, you can use the string to swing the light outside the window. Other signaling devices include the rearview mirror and the backs of CDs.
- The Lifehammer, an all-in-one tool that includes a blade to cut seatbelts and a double-sided hammer to easily and safely break side windows if the doors are stuck or the car is submerged.
More than 95% of passengers in plane crashes make it out alive. Here's what you can do to make sure you're one of them.
How to Prepare
- Dress for egress: Wear comfortable, loose, thin clothes made of natural fibers. Synthetic clothing (including pantyhose) will melt in intense heat and burn you. Pack your heels in your carry-on and wear comfortable, flat shoes that allow you to move easily.
- Know your exit: Scope out the emergency exits when you board the plane and count the rows between your seat and the nearest one. If smoke fills the cabin and you can't see, you can count your way out.
- Pay attention: Flight attendants don't give the safety talk for fun; they do it so you know what to do when it matters. Give them a few minutes of your time, and it could save your life.