We all fear fire, but many of us think home fires happen only to other people. Until it happens to you, you may not realize some of the easy precautions you can take to make your home safer.
At noon on June 21, 2006, I was three months pregnant and had just returned from a morning out with my two-year-old son when we heard a smoke alarm in the apartment below ours. I was trying to call my neighbor when she banged on the door and yelled “Grab the baby and get out! There’s a fire!”
To make a long story short, the fire, which had started in an overloaded extension cord, destroyed my neighbor’s apartment and part of mine. The rest of my apartment had smoke damage. Reconstruction took two months, during which we stayed with friends and relatives since our insurance was insufficient to cover a hotel stay. My son was still sleeping in the crib before the fire, but since none of the seven different places we stayed had cribs, he abruptly learned to sleep in a big bed. He had been newly potty trained, but soon regressed and returned to diapers until the day we moved back into our apartment.
I learned many valuable lessons during that summer. If my neighbor had had a fire extinguisher, the fire would have been put out before it spread. I should have had more insurance. I should have had an inventory of items in my home before the fire, so I didn’t have to recreate it from memory after the fire. Even when the fire was in my apartment, my smoke alarm never went off — I should have been testing it regularly.
Now we have a house of our own. We have electric smoke alarms with battery backups in nearly every room and a fire extinguisher on every floor, and we test them regularly. We have increased our insurance to an amount sufficient to cover all our possessions at replacement (not depreciated) cost. We are very cautious with electrical outlets, cords, and open flames. My son knows how to “Stop, drop, and roll,” call 911, and crawl on the floor when there is smoke. He doesn’t remember the fire anymore, but we do. Every time I turn down my street, I half-expect my house not to be there. Another fire could still happen to us, just as it could happen to you.