Each year more than 4,000 Americans lose their life to fire and approximately 25,000 are injured. At least 80 percent of fires in the U.S. occur in the home; however, there are many things we can do to prevent these fire tragedies and injuries. Testing our smoke alarms is one of the most critical things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones. All homes should have smoke alarms, an escape route and fire extinguishers on hand.

Smoke alarms: There should be a smoke alarm in every bedroom. Additionally having a smoke alarm on every level of your home is a must and you should test your smoke alarms monthly. Experts recommend that you change your batteries twice a year, in the fall and spring when we change our clocks for daylight saving time.

Escape plans: Having an escape plan and practicing the plan has been shown to save lives because you and your family will know exactly what to do in the event of an emergency. Practice the plan twice a year with the whole family. Be sure to know two ways out of your home and have a designated meeting place outside. Remember that once you are out of the home, have a neighbor call 911, and DO NOT go back inside. Be sure to educate babysitters/caregivers of your escape plan so they are familiar with it as well.

Fire extinguishers: Having fire extinguishers on each level of the home is a must for every homeowner or renter. An ABC type extinguisher is best because it can be used on most types of fires:

"A" type fires are common combustibles such as trash, wood and paper fire

"B" is a grease or liquid fire and

"C" is an electrical equipment blaze

The extinguisher needs to be maintained regularly and should not be so heavy that you cannot pick it up and use it. It is a good idea to get training on use of an extinguisher before you need to use one. The procedure is PASS:

P – Pull the pin

A – Aim the nozzle

S – Squeeze the handle and

S – Sweep at the base of the fire

Other general fire safety tips include the following:

Check for frayed or broken electrical cords. Eliminate extension cord use by purchasing a power strip. Don’t overload electrical circuits and inspect your electrical panel annually. Pay attention when cooking. Avoid leaving the room or use a timer to remind yourself that something is on the stove. Keep children and pets away from the stove. Keep your cooking area clean, including keeping combustibles away from the stove. Turn pot and pan handles to the inside rather than having them sticking out from the front or sides of the stove top. Keep your oven and stove top free of grease to avoid grease fires.

If you would like to learn more about fire safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association website or call your local fire department. For more general information about safety and emergency preparedness, check out Ready.gov.

To view this article online, go to http://missourifamilies.org/features/housingarticles/testsmoke.htm

Sherry F. Nelson, LCSW, human development specialist, Marion County, University of Missouri Extension