Every day seven people in this country die in a home fire and another 36 are hurt. Home fires are our most common disaster, yet a recent American Red Cross survey showed that 40 percent of people believe they are more likely to win the lottery or get struck by lightning than experience a home fire. 

More than three-fourths of people surveyed believe everyone in their household knows what to do when a smoke alarm goes off. But less than half have developed a fire escape plan. To stay safe, the Red Cross recommends creating a plan to make sure each member of your household knows what to do when a smoke alarm goes off and where to meet outside.

Home fire experts say people have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home. However, the survey showed nearly 60 percent of people mistakenly believe they have much more time. The Red Cross recommends practicing your home fire escape plan at least twice a year until everyone can get out in less than two minutes.

While most people believe that smoke alarms can save lives, one out of ten has had to give up buying other essentials for their families to purchase one. To ensure all households are prepared for home fires, the Red Cross is working with partners across the country to install free smoke alarms in at-risk communities. To date, this effort has resulted in more than 1.2 million alarms installed and more than 430 confirmed lives saved. We recommend testing your smoke alarms once a month. If you can’t afford a smoke alarm, please contact the Red Cross.

On a personal note, I recently participated in a Red Cross smoke alarm installation event in Maryland. It was wonderful to work with so many dedicated volunteers and community partners, and I spoke with a number of people who were grateful for the peace of mind that working smoke alarms and a home fire exit plan gave them.

The Red Cross urges you to be prepared and know what to do should a fire hit your home. Learn more about home fire safety at redcross.org.