The holiday season is a time for fun and unfortunately for fires too. More than 45,000 fires occur during the winter holidays claiming hundreds of lives. The American Red Cross is often one of the first calls made by home fire victims after disaster strikes. That's why the Red Cross is here today with some advice on fire-proofing your home for the holidays.
Nearly a thousand times a day, fire departments across the country respond to home fires. Tragically, an average of seven people die each day from home fires, and 36 more are injured. Property is damaged. Possessions are lost, including many priceless keepsakes. The worst part of it is that most home fires, deaths and injuries, are preventable.
Mardoche Olivie of Clarksville, Tennessee, woke up and started his day like many of us by heading to the kitchen. The only person home at the time, the husband and father of two started cooking his breakfast and sat down on his living room sofa. He accidentally fell asleep but the sound of a smoke alarm roused him -- and he was able to get out of the house safely, narrowly avoiding becoming another sad statistic.
Luckily, he was prepared.
More than hurricanes, more than floods, more than tornadoes -- home fires are the greatest disaster threatening Americans today and more people die from them each year than any other disaster.
The American Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters each year and close to 90 percent of these are home fires. They include single-family dwellings, mobile homes, apartment buildings and condominiums. No geographic location is immune, everyone is at risk, and most people have only two minutes to escape once a fire starts.
That's the bad news. The good news is there are a couple of easy steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. When it comes to fire safety, the magic number is two -- two minutes, two steps.
Step one is to create an escape plan -- one that includes two exits from each room -- and practice it until everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes.
Step two is to install a new and/or regularly test your existing smoke alarm. If you have a traditional alarm, change the batteries at least annually -- but two times a year is better.
Newer smoke alarms don't require battery changes, but they -- and all smoke alarms -- should be replaced after 10 years.
We know that having a smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a home fire in half. That's why it's absolutely critical to install and keep smoke alarms in good working order.
Think it can't happen to you?
Eleven people, including Glen Riley, were fast asleep in a residential building on Danneel Street in the New Orleans Central City neighborhood when a fire broke out. Everyone, including a 2-month-old infant, made it safely out after the smoke alarms installed this past winter woke them up.
Glen Riley and Mardoche Olivie both had had their smoke alarms installed for free in partnership with local fire departments as part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Launched one year ago, this multi-year effort is aimed at reducing home fire fatalities and injuries by 25 percent.
With our partners, and because of the generosity of our donors and volunteers, we have reached more than a half a million people with fire safety information; visited more than 72,000 homes in 50 states and three territories; installed more than 148,000 smoke alarms in 2,600 cities and towns from coast-to-coast and saved at least 28 lives in Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, South Dakota, Texas and Tennessee.
Big numbers are great, but stories like these -- of people whose lives were saved -- are what are truly important. They took these two simple steps and lived to tell their stories.
I want you to be a survivor, not a statistic. Take two simple steps to fire safety: Create an escape plan and install a smoke alarm. To download a free home fire escape plan worksheet, visit redcross.org/homefires today. During this holiday season, help prepare your family against home fires and please consider a donation so that the Red Cross can help others with our Home Fire Campaign.