If your smoke alarms suddenly go off in the middle of the night, do you know what to do? Fire experts predict you only have a few minutes to get out safely in an emergency. But it seems many Canadian families are not prepared for such a situation.

A recent survey revealed that just 56 per cent of us have a fire escape plan, and among those who do, just one in five said they practiced it at least twice a year.

“While it is encouraging that so many people have given thought to a fire escape plan, without practice, it cannot be as effective,” explains Tarsila Wey of First Alert, a leader in residential fire and carbon monoxide detection devices.

“The Canada Safety Council and local fire safety officials make strong recommendations about home fire safety because they know that proper planning can help prevent tragedy.”

Follow these steps to ensure your family has an effective emergency escape plan:

  • Involve everyone in your household in developing a plan. Walk through your home and identify all possible exits and routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and test them regularly. For alarms without 10-year sealed batteries, it is important to change the batteries at least every six months. It’s safest to install both photoelectric and ionization detectors in or near every bedroom and on every level of a home, including the basement.
  • Choose an outside meeting place like a neighbour’s house, light post or mailbox that’s a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they’ve escaped.
  • Have everyone remember to call the fire department once they are safely out of the home.
  • 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.
  • Practice your home escape plan at least twice a year, making drills as realistic as possible. Allow children to master the escape plan before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.

“We encourage everyone to evaluate their level of preparedness against smoke and carbon monoxide dangers,” says Wey. “It’s imperative that people develop and practice an emergency escape plan and install, maintain, regularly test and replace alarms. These are life-saving practices that can make a real difference.”