6 tips to help your family survive a house fire


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The state of Tennessee’s fire fatality toll is at 37 for the year, as of April 11.

The number of deaths includes five people from one Henry County family on April 7, as well as the death of a three-year-old in South Knoxville on April 10.

“We track fire fatalities in the state of Tennessee. It’s one of our jobs,” said Alex Daugherty, a community risk reduction coordinator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

MORE: Download a list of your family’s Emergency Contacts

Along with tracking the deaths, Daugherty and Baylie Scott teach how to prevent them.

As part of that process, the two have produced the following tips and facts you need to know:


Smoke alarms are the first line of defense against a fire, Scott said.

Of the 76 fatal fires in 2016 resulting in 109 deaths, the State Fire Marshal’s Office reported smoke alarms were only clearly present in 27.6%. About 33% had no alarm, while in 39.5% of cases it was unclear if a smoke alarm was present.

Experts suggest you change the batteries in your home’s smoke alarms every six months, when you adjust your clocks for Daylight Saving Time; however, if your smoke alarm is older than a decade, a fresh battery won’t do any good.

The reason? The smoke sensor and the alarm are two different pieces of the gadget.

“Your alarm could be testing and making a noise, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to sense smoke,” Scott said. “Smoke alarms have dates on the back side. If you unmount it from the wall, you’re able to see that date on the back, and it’s good for ten years from that date.”

According to Scott, the only real way to test a smoke alarm’s sensor is to use a can of smoke made for testing the device, “but it’s the safe rule that if they’re ten years old, they need to be replaced.”

Residents of Tennessee can request a free smoke alarm from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.


If your home is less than 30 years old, “a fire is likely to be more destructive and move very quickly through your home,” according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Daugherty said that’s because the newer homes are built with “different materials,” including lightweight construction, open floor plans, larger fuel loads in the home, and a large amount of synthetics and plastics.

“On average, you have a little less than three minutes to get out of your house once that smoke alarm goes off, if there’s actually a fire,” Daugherty said.

In older homes, Daugherty said “you might have around 15 to 20 minutes to get out of your house,” but that’s being generous.


Not knowing the difference between the two methods can have tragic consequences.

“You ask kids, what do you do when your house is on fire? The first thing they say is Stop Drop and Roll,” Scott said. “That’s sort of disheartening to us because, if your house is on fire, the last thing you want your child doing is stopping, dropping and rolling.”

Stop Drop and Roll is a practice that should only be used if a person’s clothing is on fire.

To get out of a burning house, you want to Get Low and Go.

“If there’s smoke in your house, you want to get low, so you’re below the smoke, and get out,” Daugherty said. “For whatever reason over the years, people have confused Get Low and Go with Stop Drop and Roll. They’re just rolling around on the ground when they need to get out.”


A closed door can help dramatically reduce the spread of smoke and flames to other areas of the house, Daugherty said.

“If there is a fire elsewhere in your house, it will take that much longer to get into your bedroom,” Daugherty told News 2. “Just a single door can probably be the most important piece of firefighting equipment in your house, next to a smoke alarm.”

Essentially, he said a closed door can “trap” the fire in one place for a “significant amount of time.”

When escaping a house that is on fire, Daugherty said closing the doors behind you “could potentially save your life or the life of a firefighter.”


The average age of the 2016 fatal fire victim was 42.5, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Children under the age of five years old accounted for 16.5% of fire deaths, while 53% of the victims were over the age of 50 with a majority of those between the ages of 60 and 80.

“A lot of times, we assume that they know what to do because they’re older than us, but that’s not always the case, so ensuring that they have a plan themselves, and they’re just able to incorporate them in with the escape plan is just very important,” Scott said.

Everyone staying in a home should be familiar with the emergency exit plan. This is especially important for children under the age of five and adults older than 60.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office suggests becoming familiar with two ways out of every room in a home. You should also be able to escape the house in less than three minutes.

Prepare your family by practicing an escape plan with everyone in your home. Scott also suggests leaving a drawn out map on a fridge highlighting all escape routes.


It sounds obvious, but according to Scott, when there’s a fire “that’s a really common thing we see is people running back into buildings after a teddy bear, pictures or a phone.”

In the time it took you to escape, Scott said the fire in your home has “increased dramatically” and “the overall level of danger” has spiked.

“We want you to get out and stay out and not go back for valuables,” Scott said. “Those things can be replaced but you cannot.”

Click here to read more from News 2’s Family Safety Day. 

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