It’s Fire Prevention Week across the country, a week that was established in 1920 by President Woodrow Wilson and commemorates two devastating fires from the 1800s. Those two fires include the well-known Great Chicago Fire and the lesser known but more devastating Peshtigo Fire, which burned through 16 towns, scorched 1.2 million acres and killed 1,152 people.

Every year the National Fire Protection Association establishes the Fire Prevention Week theme. For the last three years, the theme has focused on smoke alarms. The first reminded us to test our smoke alarms monthly, and the second was to have a working smoke alarm in every bedroom, and the third recommended replacing smoke alarms every 10 years.

This year’s theme, “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!" focuses on the importance of every household having an escape plan. In a fire, seconds can mean the difference between residents in our community escaping safely or having lives end in tragedy.

You may be wondering how to create your personalized escape plan. First, you need to draw a map of your home, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit. This means your exits are usually through a door and a window. If you live in a single-story home, escaping out the window may be OK without a ladder. If you live in a two-story home, you should consider buying an escape ladder that can aid in safely climbing out. Are children sleeping on the second story? Make sure they are capable of opening a window and being able to escape safely and quickly.

Next, identify all the smoke alarms in the house. Install smoke alarms on all floors, in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area. Test your smoke alarms to make sure they are all in working condition.

Once your escape plan is drawn up, pick an outside family meeting place where everyone can meet. Find a location in front of your house that can be easily seen in the dark and that everyone has access to.

Now it is time to practice your home fire drill. Conduct one practice at night and one during the day with everyone in your home and practice at least twice a year. It is best to practice using different ways out. This is the time to teach your kids how to escape if you cannot help them. Close all doors behind you as you leave, as this may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire. Make sure everyone understands that once you get outside, stay outside. No one should ever go back inside a burning building.

After your fire drill practice, take some time to talk about the process and modify the plan as needed. Make sure everyone is comfortable and practice as many times during the year that you feel fit.

—Alison Lerch is the fire-adapted communities coordinator with Ashland Fire & Rescue. Email her at