You dutifully childproofed your home. You made sure not to put a baby bumper or loose bedding in your infant’s sleep space. You painstakingly cut each and every grape and cherry tomato in the perfect manner to prevent choking. But parents are falling short on one key safeguard: fire safety. Research shows that 82% of families have no fire safety plan in place. And about 25% of Americans don’t even have a fire extinguisher! While this type of preparedness may seem like something that you can get to at some point when you have a minute, it’s important to inch fire safety to the top of your to-do list. Each year, roughly 690 children 9 and under will be injured in a home fire—and 250 perish. Here’s what you need to do to help keep your family safe.

Need-to-Know Home Fire Facts

Home fires can start and spread very fast. It’s not only important to know how to set up a fire safety plan, it’s also important to understand the potential fire dangers in your home.

  • Cooking is the leading cause of home fires, setting off an average of 169,400 home fires a year.

  • Heaters and other heating equipment is right behind cooking as the second leading cause of home fires, responsible for roughly 1,350 injuries annually.

  • Working smoke alarms are instrumental to saving lives. Having them reduces your chances of dying in a home fire by 50%.

  • Short escape time is a real problem. While 62% of Americans believe they have at least five minutes to escape a fire, the real timeframe is closer to two minutes, according to the American Red Cross.

Fire Safety Tips for the Family: Smoke Detectors

Did you know that 70% of home fire deaths occur in homes with no functioning smoke detectors? The time is now to learn where you need to place smoke detectors in your home—and how to use them.

  • Install the proper number of smoke alarms. At minimum, be sure to place a smoke detector inside and outside every bedroom—and on every level of the home, including the basement. (Place basement smoke alarms on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs.)

  • Avoid this installation mistake. Never place smoke alarms near windows, doors, or ducts where a draft can muck up their functioning. If you can’t install your smoke alarm on the ceiling, place it on the wall no more than 12 inches away from the ceiling.

  • Get two types of alarms. An ionization alarm is more responsive to flames and a photoelectric version is usually more reactive to smoke. For the best protection, install both or buy dual sensor smoke alarms.

  • Test smoke alarms regularly. It’s recommended that you do so once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.

  • Do smoke alarm sound tests. It’s extremely important to teach children what smoke alarms actually sound like—and what they should do when they hear one.

  • DO NOT rely on an alarm to wake children! Smoke alarms are indeed crucial for home fire safety, but parents need to know that smoke alarms only successfully wake up 56% of children. Compared to grownups, children spend more time in slow-wave sleep, a stage of sleep that often requires more noise to cause a wake-up. That means, when you’re making your home fire escape plan, you need to put an adult in charge of waking all children up.

Fire Safety Tips for the Family: Escape

When a fire starts in the home, children can become scared, confused, and panicked…and they often look for somewhere to hide, like in their closet or under the bed. That’s why you must teach your children what to do if a fire does break out. Here’s how to set them up for success:

  • Ensure windows have a quick-release option. If you’ve got security bars on your windows, make sure they come equipped with a quick-release device to ensure that you and your family do not get trapped inside.

  • Consider escape ladders. For those sleeping on the second or third floor, an escape ladder may be helpful during an emergency.

  • Teach “get low and go!” Smoke is dangerous! If there’s a lot of smoke, make sure everyone knows to get low and crawl out of the house as fast as possible. (Practice crawling while covering your mouths.)

  • Know that if it’s hot…stop! Teach your family to touch doors before opening them when there’s a fire. If the door is hot, find another exit.

  • Commit “stop, drop, and roll” to memory. Make sure everyone knows to follow these steps if their clothing catches fire. (Running and jumping around actually fuels the fire.)

  • Learn your routes. Ensure that all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home—and they know the designated family meeting spot outside of your home.

  • Practice your escape plan. At least twice a year, practice waking up to smoke alarms, low crawling, and getting to the first safety meet-up spot outside. Practice during the day and at night—and do it until everyone can get out in less than two minutes.

  • Get out and stay out. Only firefighters should enter a building that’s on fire! That remains true even if other family members, furry friends, or priceless possessions are still inside.

  • Make sure everyone knows how to call 911. Quiz your kids regularly to make sure they know the number and how to dial it.

Fire Prevention Tips for the Family

There are many everyday things you and your family can do to help prevent a fire from ever occurring in your home. Some stay-safe strategies include:

Heating Safety

  • Be fireplace smart. Burn only dry, seasoned wood in your fireplace—no paper or trash! Use a glass or metal fireplace screen to prevent embers from escaping. Always put your fire out before going to bed or leaving your home. Finally, place ashes outside in a lidded metal container at least three feet from your house.

  • Maintain your stove and fireplace. Got a wood or coal stove, a fireplace, chimney, and/or furnace? Get each professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.

  • Use a space heater this way. Place your space heater on a hard, level, and nonflammable surface—not on rugs—and make sure it’s at least three feet away from any item that can catch fire, like paper, drapes, or clothing. Never leave a space heater unattended and turn it off before hitting the sack. For additional safety, only use space heaters that automatically turn off if tipped over.

Cooking Safety

  • Keep these items next to the stove. Always have a pan lid and/or a cookie sheet nearby when you’re cooking. You can use them to smother a pan fire. (Don’t forget to turn off the burner, too.)

  • Never throw water on a kitchen fire. This can cause grease to splash, making the fire spread, and burning you, too!

  • Unplug! Small appliances like toasters, slow cookers, and air fryers should always be unplugged when not in use.

  • Get a Class B extinguisher. You need this type of fire extinguisher to put out kitchen grease fires. Store it about 30 feet from your stove, in a place that’s easy to get to.

Kid Fire Safety

  • Keep matches out of reach. Matches and lighters (with child-resistant features) need to be stored far from little hands. At the same time, regularly talk to your children about how playing with these items is dangerous.

  • Educate your kiddos with Pedro. The American Red Cross created Pedro’s Fire Challenge, a fun interactive fire safety game for children 4 to 8 years old to bolster their home fire know-how. If you’ve got an Amazon-Alexa-enabled or Google-Assistant-enabled device, simply say, “Alexa, enable Pedro’s Fire Challenge by the American Red Cross” or “Hey Google, talk to Pedro’s Fire Challenge” to play.

  • Cover outlets. When there are toddlers or young children at home, cover outlets that are in reach with plastic safety covers.

Household Safety

  • If you smoke, do it outside. Never smoke in bed, when you’re feeling drowsy, or inside if anyone is using oxygen. In addition, only use a deep and sturdy ashtray, douse cigarettes with water before throwing out, and while you’re trying to quit (hint, hint), choose fire-safe cigarettes.

  • Consider flameless candles and flashlights. But if you are using real candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything flammable and never leave a burning candle unattended. (Use flashlights when the power is out, not candles.)

  • Close bedroom doors. Snoozing with the bedroom door shut helps keep the smoke out so everyone has time to respond when the fire alarm sounds.

  • Toss frayed cords. Electrical appliances with loose or frayed cords or plugs need to be disposed of. Same goes for frayed charging cords.

More safety tips for you and your family:



  • PR Newswire: Red Cross Launches Campaign to Reduce Home Fire Deaths and Injuries in U.S., June 2014
  • ValuePenguin: 1 in 4 Americans Don’t Have a Fire Extinguisher, May 2021
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): Characteristics of home fire victims, December 2021
  • NFPA: Home Structure Fires Marty Ahrens and Radhika Maheshwari, October 2021
  • New York State Department of Health: Functioning Smoke Alarms Are Highly Effective in Preventing Fire-Related Deaths, May 2012
  • American Red Cross: Home Fire Safety.
  • NFPA: Installing and maintaining smoke alarms
  • Comparison of the effectiveness of female voice, male voice, and hybrid voice-tone smoke alarms for sleeping children, Pediatric Research, 2020
  • Nationwide Children’s: Fire Safety for Children
  • American Red Cross: Fire Safety for Kids
  • American Red Cross: Red Cross Responds to More Than 20,000 Home Fires So Far in 2022; Offers Safety Steps to Follow, April 2022
  • FEMA: Chimney Fire Precautions, December 2020
  • American Red Cross: How to Avoid a Fire in Your Home, January 2021
  • Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association: Portable Fire Extinguishers
  • American Red Cross: Home Fire Safety for the Entire Family with Pedro’s Fire Challenge on Amazon Alexa, May 2021

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    Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.