One of the most important reasons to have an Emergency Survival Kit / Bug Out Bag is to prepare for home fires. Why? Because in only a matter of minutes a small flame can turn into a raging house fire, and you and your family may only have seconds to escape. You wouldn't have time to grab anything that wasn't already prepared near an exit. Home fires, more than any other thing we prepare for (other than a tornado) strike the fastest and pose the most significant threat us.
Prepare Your KIT
We'll start with planning our Bug Out Bag Emergency Kit, and what considerations we need to explore. If you are unfamiliar with assembling a BOB, read our article about it here. If you already have a Bug Out Bag ready, then lets move on.
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On the high-end is the iEvac Certified Smoke/Fire Hood. It is the only hood certified by SEI (http://www.seinet.org/) and tested by the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. It's also designated as an anti-terrorism technology by the US Department of Homeland Security Safety Act. It protects against toxic gasses such as carbon monoxide (the number one cause of death and injury in a fire), smoke, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide, tear gas and more.
The FIREMASK Emergency Escape Hood is a another product that can protect you from smoke inhalation for up to an hour. This is a great thing to have if you live in a multi-story apartment building and would need to evacuate several flights of stairs.
On the less expensive side having a box of N95 Respirators available will also protect you from particulates, although it will not prevent smoke inhalation.Goggles will help keep stuff out of your eyes, we like the Dewalt Concealer Goggles, because they also repel liquids, in case you need them against a biological threat.
There are a few scenarios where you may not be able to take your full BOB with you, especially if it is a full-sized camping backpack. If you have to collect a wife, kids, or pets while crawling around, that may also not be possible or wise to do with a 50 lb BOB strapped to your back.
We came up with something we call a WUSH Bag (Wake Up, Stuffs Happening) that you can keep within arms reach of your bed. It's a small handbag that keeps only the most essential items in it: a set of house keys, car keys, money, a flashlight, USB key with important documents, printed out list of important phone numbers, backup cell phone charger. It's a smart idea to keep your wallet and phone nearby so you can dump them in there if you need to jump out of bed and go.
GET HOME BAG
You should keep a bag in your vehicle(s) that can fill-in some of the other things you would need if you were suddenly displaced from your home, but weren't able to grab your Bug Out Bag, and thats a Get Home Bag (GHB). We have a whole article dedicated to Get Home Bags, check it out here.
The key to surviving a fire, whether it's in you home or elsewhere, is planning and preparation. This includes fire drills, mapping exits, having fire alarms, and a meeting place.
Keeping a fire from starting in the first place is the smartest thing to do of course. The following common-sense things should be kept in mind at all times:
- Never smoke in bed or keep ashtrays under the couch.
- Be careful of using portable heaters: keep other items a few feet away from them at all times, and turn them off when not in the room.
- Avoid grease fires while cooking and learn how to put one out.
- Do not run electrical cords under rugs.
- Do not let the kids get access to lighters or matches!
- Prevent Christmas trees from catching fire, they can do massive damage in less than 10 seconds. You must watch this video. Yikes.
Fire Evacuation Drills
You should think about where you keep your Bug Out Bags, and whether or not they will be easy to grab in a fire. The first thing to consider is the height you store them. Because most fire deaths result from smoke inhalation, you don't want your Bug Out Bags up by the ceiling which is where all the smoke will be so try to keep the bags in an accessible place if you are crawling. If the fire has already gotten very bad then you may need to crawl out of your home.
The next bag location consideration is where you will exit your house. If it's the front door then keep then keep your Emergency Kits near there if you can. Under the bed might be another option, especially if you have different egress possibilities, like bedroom windows or backdoors.
Prepare Your Home
The first and simplest thing to do is to make sure you know a fire is happening as soon as it starts, and that happens by having a Smoke Detector in each and every room and hallway in the house. It's especially important in the kitchen, the hallway near bedrooms, and the garage. Make sure you check the batteries 2x a year. We like to do it when we change the clocks during and after daylight savings time.
Make sure you test them monthly, and that the kids know what they sound like and what they need to do if they hear one.
Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas that can kill you while you sleep. It's the byproduct of incomplete combustion: anywhere there is a fire there is CO. Think a car running in a garage, a blacked chimney or flue, cracked furnace exchanger, or malfunctioning gas range or stove, heater, gas dryer, etc. A Carbon Monoxide Alarm can protect you and your family from exposure, and is a very smart investment.
Preparing for Wild Fires
Wild fires bring their own set of unique circumstances. Unlike in-home fires, you will typically know in advance that a wild fire threatens your neighborhood. However your immediate area could be inundated with particulate and smoke. You should have a few masks and goggles available to you for your evacuation into these areas. Keep spares in your car, since they are cheap and easy to store.