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Summer Family Fire Preparedness: Smoke Detectors and Evacuation by Jared Goff

In 2008, our family bought a new home because our kids were growing, and frankly, we needed the space. As a fire service professional and one that has seen the positive effects of smoke detectors, I decided to have some fun with our new home emergency plan. It was important to my wife and I that our young kids knew the smoke detector’s sound and how to respond appropriately. I explained the goals of the “game,” the desired meeting spot, and that I wanted them to find a way out of the house once they heard the alarm. So, we tucked them in bed and told them to pretend they were asleep. After a few minutes, I pushed the test button on the smoke detector until the deafening sound emanated from the device. Both kids jumped out of bed without delay, ran down the stairs, through the front door opening, and were waiting with huge smiles on their faces by the big tree in the front yard – our desired meeting spot. For them, it was fun. My wife and I were proud that they accomplished this small but super important task.
After their hearts calmed down, we praised them, and then we went back upstairs to ask them about alternative routes. “So, kids, let’s say that smoke is coming from the kitchen, and you could not get down the stairs; what would you do?” They looked around intently and offered the window and a second staircase as possibilities. “That will work….do you know how to open the window?” They both were able to open the window, and I showed them how to knock out the screen easily. However, I didn’t think of the window’s height from the ground outside, I saw their worried faces, and from their perspective, it was probably hundreds of feet down. I used this opportunity as another teaching moment as I explained how I was taught how to hang and drop, which would reduce the drop significantly. Our son seemed ready to try it, while our daughter was not nearly as excited.
Regardless, I reinforced the concept that this is another way, just in case. We moved throughout the second floor and looked at other windows or opportunities for escape to add additional tools to the toolbox. By the end of the drill, I could see the confidence in their faces that they were ready.
As a parent, I felt both pride and comfort knowing that my kids knew what to do in multiple scenarios, including going to a neighbor’s house and not returning to the inside of the home if someone didn’t get out.
Your anxiety may be high by now, but these small exercises will help survivability and increase confidence, both for you and your family. Knowing or learning what to do before an emergency is fundamental to preparedness. As parents, we owe it to our family to lead them to success. To be sure, having at least one working smoke detector is a huge step in the right direction. Exercising and testing smoke detectors, changing the batteries, or installing multiple detectors enables time to evacuate before conditions become untenable.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides a plethora of information on fire safety. Their advice is to have at least one smoke detector in your home. Adding this one piece of technology will drastically and statistically increase your survivability. Further, the risk of death in homes with a working smoke detector is reduced by 55% compared with homes with none or an inoperable detector. Moreover, between 2014 and 2018, three out of five home fire deaths were caused by fire in properties with no smoke alarms.

  • They also provide some other great advice, such as:
  • Test all smoke detectors once a month. The kids may enjoy this task!
  • A smoke alarm should be on the ceiling or high on a wall, away from the kitchen.
  • Replace smoke detectors that are over ten years old.

It’s important to note that most fire & rescue departments across the United States will provide free smoke detector guidance or offer suggestions on where to place it in your home. Simply call your local fire station for details.
Now that our kids are a bit older, there are some things that we could have done better that I would like to share with you. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, yet sharing thoughts and tips provides you and others the opportunity to have a significant impact on your family’s safety today and in the future:
We never shared our fire evacuation plan with the neighbors. While some neighbors may not be helpful or trustworthy, it remains essential to discuss with them the possibility that members of your family may reach out to them for help.
We never shared our evacuation or meeting place with visitors, including those that came over for sleepovers. How long would it take to tell them the various ways to get out, or at least the meeting place?
We never discussed a plan for our dog. For some, pets are their children, and our family is no different. Discuss what the plan is or isn’t.
We didn’t consistently reinforce the evacuation routes or practice regularly. Indeed there is no magic number, but once a year should suffice.

In closing, there are a plethora of robust and free resources that you can access to enhance your fire preparedness. I would encourage you and your family to take advantage of these resources. ◙

NFPA Preparedness – CLICK HERE
United States Fire Administration –CLICK HERE
Red Cross – CLICK HERE
Ready – An official US Government website describing various disasters and how to be prepared. This site offers a preparedness kit for fire safety. CLICK HERE


About Jared Goff

Jared Goff is a full-time dad and husband. He currently serves as the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, Chief of the Virginia Fire Marshal Academy. Jared just retired from the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department in Northern Virginia as a Captain with over 25 years experience in emergency services, including 10 years in leadership, command, and field training positions. Notably, Jared was the regional Fire-EMS-Health Intelligence Liaison in a local fusion center and was responsible for the collection, analysis, development, and dissemination of intelligence and collaboration with Northern Virginia and National Capital Region stakeholders.
Jared earned his second Master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School – Center for Homeland Defense and Security where he conducted original research into the challenges that our nation’s first responders face when preparing for a Complex Coordinated Attack. In 2013, he earned a Master of Arts in Diplomacy with a concentration in International Terrorism at Norwich University.

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