To protect yourselves in case of fire, you have smoke detectors and extinguishers. But do you also have a family evacuation plan? It’s an essential tool to ensure everyone in the house knows how to get out as quickly as possible if a fire starts burning out of control.

Why you need a plan

In the worst-case scenario, you would have less than three minutes to flee a burning house. Those few minutes include the time it takes for the smoke detector to sense the smoke, for the alarm to sound, and for it to wake you up if the fire starts in the middle of the night.

In other words, you and your family members must act without hesitation, and everyone must know exactly what to do. That’s why municipal fire departments and the Quebec Public Security Ministry stress the importance of having an evacuation plan.

A plan that is simple to put into practice

The evacuation plan is a diagram showing the following:

  • Emergency exits
  • Routes to those exits
  • A meeting point outside
  • Locations of extinguishers
  • Locations of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors

Explain the plan to your children so that they learn the various routes to take. Also, conduct fire drills together.

“This way out”

Doors, hallways and stairways are, obviously, the main routes out of the house. Make sure the way is always clear; teach your children not to leave items lying around that could become obstacles to escape.

Windows in rooms can also be emergency exits. Make sure they open easily, and wide enough to let a person through. In the basement, where the windows are far from the floor, install furniture or ladders underneath to make it easier to get to the windows.

If you live in a home with two or more storeys and bedrooms on higher floors, you can buy a safety ladder. It extends telescopically, is easily stored in a corner of the room, and is designed to attach quickly and securely to the window opening. You can buy these ladders, which are 16 inches (0.4 metres) wide and about 13 feet (4 metres) long when extended, for less than $100 from specialized retailers and larger hardware stores. There are also models extending to 25 feet (7.6 metres) for use in triplexes.

Other smart moves

Buying a home alarm system connected to a central station is a good idea. This way, you’ll be sure that the fire department will be notified quickly. An alarm system might even earn you a discount on your home insurance premium!

If you have double-cylinder deadbolt locks, i.e., with keyed locks both outside and inside, leave the key in the inside lock whenever you’re home. This way, you won’t lose time looking for it if you need to open the door in an emergency.

When evacuating in the event of a fire, before opening any door, press your hand against it. If it is very hot, it means there is intense heat from flames on the other side. Block the opening under the door with a sheet, towel or similar item to keep smoke out, and head for the window—this is now your only way out.

Try to breathe in as little smoke as possible. Remember that smoke tends to rise, so bend down—or crawl on your hands and knees, even. Move along the walls to better guide you toward the exit.

References and resources

For parents

The Quebec Ministry of Public Security website has comprehensive information on how to prepare an efficient evacuation plan.

For children

The Public Security website also features an animated film for children and a game (the game is in french only) they can use to practice placing pictograms of doors, windows, the outside meeting point, etc., on an evacuation plan diagram.

For seniors, people with reduced mobility, etc.

Some fire departments, including Montreal’s, allow citizens to register free of charge for a database, so that firefighters will know that there are people with reduced mobility living at a given address, and can provide the assistance they need during an emergency.

If this type of service is not available in your community, make plans with your loved ones and/or friends. Renovations or relocation of your leisure and sleeping areas might also be necessary to make it easier for you to be evacuated in an emergency, and to make your home safer for you in general.