Fire Prevention: Practice E.D.I.T.H. and be Safe

Near the end of September, my son experienced fire—complete with a banging on his apartment door at 3:00 a.m. and a policeman shouting for him to get out.

Stunned, he shoved his feet into flip-flops, grabbed a jacket and bolted.  He had his wallet and phone.  That was all he would own a few hours later.

The policeman told him he might be able to go back in ten minutes—the fire was in a neighboring building.  He waited in the cold, worrying about his beloved cat still inside.  Ten minutes stretched to hours.  He periodically updated us on his cell phone.  The fire leapt to his apartment in an old historic building with wooden beams.  The roof caved in.  The cat died and my son lost all his possessions.

It is now October, FIRE PREVENTION MONTH.  Annually the American Red Cross reminds us of the dangers and sorrows of fire.  We need to be alert; we need to be prepared.  The American Red Cross gave my son money for food and shelter within hours of the fire.  And except for dwindling anxiety over the loss of his cat and a trip to the ER for a nebulizer treatment from smoke inhalation, my son is all right. Would you and your family fare as well?

There are between 350,000 and 400,000 house fires in the United States every year. Home fires are the biggest disaster threat to families in this country, above floods and hurricanes.

You might be thinking everything can be replaced, I don’t need to worry.  Think again.

In the 1970s, before smoke alarms were available to homeowners, my friend Chris, at the tender age of seven, was burned in a house fire.  Asleep at the back of a one level home away from his parents, he suffered burns over 90% of his body.  He survived.  Now a successful cardiac RN, Chris is proof that life can get better, but he suffered excruciating pain and many surgeries; he is permanently scarred.

More statistics: in the United States fires kill about 6,000 people each year and cause burns to 100,000 more.

Do you have smoke alarms in major areas of your home?  Do you test the batteries in these smoke detectors periodically and replace the batteries twice a year?

The leading causes of fire in the home are:

Furnaces, wood stoves and space heaters

Careless smoking


Electrical malfunctions

In addition to checking your smoke detectors or buying new ones during FIRE PREVENTION MONTH, create an E.D.I.T.H. plan.  EDITH is an acronym for Exit Drills In The Home.  Everyone should do the following:

  • Have a family meeting
  • Diagram two escape routes for daytime living and most importantly plan two for nighttime sleeping.  (In an apartment building, locate the enclosed exit stairs.)
  • If you have babies or very small children, consider how you will get to them so you can carry them outside.
  • Choose a place outdoors where you will all meet.
  • Remind your children never to return to a burning building.
  • Make sure that escape routes work—that children can open windows, climb down ladders, or are able to lower themselves to the ground.
  • If you are helping your child, always lower them first as they might panic and be unable to follow you.
  • If the building you live in has security bars over the windows, at least one window must have bars that can be opened from the inside.

My son was extremely fortunate in another way—he had renter’s insurance.  The American Red Cross states that 98% of people living in rental units do not have renter’s insurance.  They lose everything.  If this is you, call an agent today.  In light of what you will have to replace, renter’s insurance is affordable.

More fire and burn prevention tips:

  • Carefully store flammable products
  • Turn the handle of boiling water pots inward so children cannot reach them
  • Don’t leave your kitchen or home if you are frying, grilling or broiling food
  • Keep matches and lighters away from and out of reach of children
  • Keep hot irons away from children
  • Never leave fireplace fires unattended
  • Teach your children STOP, DROP and ROLL if they ever find themselves on fire
  • Don’t keep old newspapers or rags.  Get rid of items that could ignite and become a blazing fire
  • Don’t leave dryers, washers, dishwashers or other electrical appliances running when you leave your home for a number of hours
  • Buy a fire extinguisher for kitchen fires
  • Fire in your home beyond your control?—get out and stay out.  Call 911 from your cell or a neighbor’s home

Be prepared and stay safe.


7 thoughts on “Fire Prevention: Practice E.D.I.T.H. and be Safe

  1. Dear Beth,
    thanks for your thoughtful tips. Let me add this for typical boomers. It would be a good idea to bundle vital papers such as birth certificates, wills, anything else that you really cannot do without – if they are in your home and not in a safe deposit box – into one envelope or box which you can get to easily. Similarly it is vitally important to know how you can get vital data from your computer drive[s] out as you leave – either by designating a lap top you will be carrying along with your bundle of vital papers or some other form of information storage such as a backup memory which might be easy to take. Then when the emergency hits people who are prepared can just grab these items and their wallets [ which presumably carry credit cards, driver licenses, ID’s], and head for the door.

    • This is excellent advice. I am so attached to my stored work on my computer that I keep disks in the shed and always carry a flash drive of my novels!!! But I would lose a lot in a fire,even though I have a backup drive. The problem is–if you are not home to grab those things. Storing copies in a safety deposit box is an excellent idea. My friend Barb once said, before computers, just grab your family and your photo albums–everything else can be replaced.
      Have a good week, Beth

  2. Thanks for the post. I too was in a fire and understand what it is like to lose possessions. Since I am a student studying graphic design, one of the hardest part was losing my portfolio and files I had on my computer. I could not replace those and even though they were backed up with CD’s and USB drives, that didn’t matter because I didn’t have enough time to grab them. I know that one lady in our apartment building had her vital information bundled and was able to exit with it. She didn’t have to go through the process of replacing all her vital records.

    • Dear Firesurvivors,

      Your site is very interesting and thank you for your post. Amazingly, my son’s girlfriend also lost her portfolio as you did. She was able to get back into the apartment a day later and pull it out damp and dirty. A company cleaned it up somewhat and now she is cutting it into strips and using it in another art form. That’s survival. Sharing is also survival.
      My brother suggests having things ready to take with you. The problem with that is fires often occur when we are not at home.

      Take care, Beth

  3. That is very ironic that she also lost her portfolio. From studying art history I know that there are cleaning services for damaged work and I am glad that she was able to save some of her art. Also, I remember from an art panel I went to, they discussed alternative ways of using your portfolio, like cutting up you work, like she did and making it into business cards,etc.

    I agree with you about the survival part and overcoming the obstacles. I was at home when the fire occurred and can remember everything as clear as day. There is nothing that can erase the screams of the other tenants and the horror trying to escape a burning building. I often wonder what would have happened if I wasn’t home. I don’t know what’s worse, being home or not being home.

  4. I don’t think there’s an answer to your last statement. I think we do what we can to be prepared. We do smart things and hope that something sudden that we could never have anticipated, won’t happen. And that no one we love will be hurt whether home or not home. My friend Chris suffered a great deal as a child being scarred. As a teen it was even worse. But he found himself, he found his core and latched onto his life and became a wonderful RN and married and had children. Inner strength. Thanks again for writing,

  5. Reblogged this on Bob Avsec's Blog and commented:
    You want to know the identity of the greatest terrorist currently threatening the United States? Clue: It’s been around a l-o-n-g time and its name is FIRE. Every year approximately 4000 civilians and 100 firefighters die in fires; tens of thousands are injured in fires, some horribly disfigured; and billions of dollars are lost by individuals and businesses who experience fires. How many U.S. citizens have died on U.S. soil at the hand of “non-fire” terrorists since September 11, 2001? Zero. How many at the “hands” of fire: 40,000+ during that ten-year span. That’s the population of a small city.

    You or someone you know could fall victim to this terrorist today, tomorrow…One of my most recent connections on the Internet is a fellow blogger, Beth Havey, who’s blog, The Boomer Highway is definately one worth reading regularly. The following is a repost of a piece she did in October of 2011 during Fire Prevention Week. I gotta tell you, as a retired Fire & EMS Department Battalion Chief, (1) you can never write these kinds of pieces too much in an effort to inform and educate people about the fire terrorist and (2) I’ve never seen a better piece by someone outside the business!

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