10/15/2012 04:21 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2012

The Alarming Truth About Fire Safety

I was almost ready to move into a charming, just perfect home discovered for me by my wonderful friend and realtor, Nancy. We were walking from room to room, discussing all of the final decorating touches that would transform this beautiful condo into my dream home.

That's when I happened to notice one of the smoke alarms. It caught my eye because it looked so old and dusty. It seemed completely out of place in a home that was otherwise so obviously well cared for.

Nancy and I looked at each other. The situation made us both pause and realize how we can spend so much time focusing on all the little details in our home and we sometimes forget about the bigger things that can protect the lives of the people we love most.

It's for reasons like this that Safe Kids Worldwide and the United States Fire Administration (USFA) teamed up last week during National Fire Prevention Week (October 7-13) to educate parents about the importance of fire safety. Every day at least one child dies from a home fire and nearly 300 children suffer from injuries as a result of a fire or burn. Yet every one of these tragedies is preventable. So we're asking everyone to do two simple things to help protect your family from home fires:

(1) Check your smoke alarms. Working smoke alarms reduce the chances of dying in a fire by nearly 50 percent. They are a critical first step for staying safe, but in order to be effective, they have to be working properly. Dust is not a good sign. So take a few minutes this week and check your smoke alarms. Do you have a working smoke alarm on every level of the home, outside every sleeping area and in each bedroom? Have you replaced the batteries in the last year? Smoke alarms expire after 10 years. If your alarm is more than 10 years old, you should install a new one.

(2) Create and practice a home fire escape plan. According to a recent study by the National Fire Protection Association, 77 percent of American households have not developed and practiced a plan to ensure that they could escape quickly and safely during a home fire.

So once you make sure your smoke alarms are working, it's important to have an escape plan with two ways out of your house in case of a fire. This may sound daunting, but planning ahead can be both important and a fun activity to do with your kids.

We'll even make it easy for you. The Safe Kids downloadable fire escape worksheet provides a diagram to help children and parents work together to create their own fire escape plan. It's a great way to get the family together and practice the things you'll need to know in case of a home fire.

Remember, fire can spread rapidly through a home, leaving a family as little as two minutes to escape safely once the alarm sounds. So once you make the plan, it's just as important to practice it with your whole family. Your kids practice fire drills at least twice a year at school. Wouldn't it be great to do the same at home?

Here are a few more tips for planning and practicing an at-home fire drill:

  • Smoke is toxic. Teach children to "get low and go" if there is smoke when they are leaving the home.
  • Practice feeling the door, doorknob and cracks around the door with the back of your hand to see if it is too hot. Help your children practice as well.
  • Choose a place to meet outside that is a safe distance away from your home. It should be some place permanent such as a tree, light pole or mailbox.
  • If you cannot safely escape your home or apartment, keep smoke out of the room by covering vents and cracks around the door and call 9-1-1 or your fire department as quickly as possible. Then signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.

We all know that it's important to recognize that home fires must be taken seriously. Don't rely on luck to make sure your family is safe. Rely on planning.