It’s always a good idea to think about fire safety, because fires are so very preventable; they don’t occur in a vacuum. And though it’s relatively rare to die from a fire (3,000 annual fatalities in the U.S.), this statistic is no consolation to the victim’s survivors. Use this handy checklist to make sure your home is covered on the fire safety front.

  • Get at least one smoke alarm for each floor of your house. Periodically dust and test them to make sure they work. Smoke detectors that flash lights or vibrate beneath a pillow are available for the hearing impaired.
  • Never deactivate the alarms.
  • Change fire alarm batteries twice a year.
  • Alarms should be replaced every 10 years.
  • Drill every family member on escape routes and meeting points outside should there be a fire. This includes logistics of carrying out babies, young kids, pets and disabled people. Ideally, there should be two planned exits per room.
  • Drills should be run unexpectedly and during inconvenient times. A fire doesn’t care if you’re in the middle of washing your hair, painting your toenails or sound asleep when it’s 17 degrees outside.
  • Time the drills and work on beating the time with the next drill. The stopwatch stops when everyone is convened outside.
  • Have a folding ladder for second-story escapes.
  • The No. 1 rule is to get everyone out ASAP, and THEN call 9-1-1…from a neighbor’s house. Don’t go back in to fetch the phone.
  • Make sure that electrical cords are not exposed to pets or kids who can accidentally or deliberately yank on them, tipping over the burning lamp that they’re connected to.
  • Never leave the house for any amount of time while a candle is burning.
  • A cat leaping onto a stove is a fire hazard. Special devices are sold that can train cats not to jump onto things.
  • In the meantime, see if you can remove any stove knobs, which can be turned by cats playing around.
  • Never leave anything plugged in that you’re not using or not heating up, like a curling iron, hotplate or grill.
  • Make sure all of your heaters have an automatic shut-off if tipped over.
  • Quit smoking. Seriously. But even if you keep trying to quit, this means you’re still lighting up. Make a strict rule: Never smoke in bed or when reclined in a chair, bean bag or any kind of furniture that encourages falling asleep.
  • Rinse cigarette butts in water before tossing.
  • Do not handle fireworks, firecrackers or any other illegal explosives.
  • Pour water on any smoldering or hot embers from your fireplace, then place outside, away from house.
  • Enforce rules regarding kids being alone with flammable substances.
  • Hide matches and lighters. Every so often, a house fire starts by a child “playing with matches” or “playing with a lighter.” How does this happen? Do not leave these items lying around. Keep them hidden in places your child does not know or can’t access.

This post is by Robert Siciliano, personal and home security specialist to