Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on September 1, 2019.

Great Escapes 

This year's Fire Prevention Week theme emphasizes the need for families to save themselves in the event of a home fire


Earlier this summer, NFPA announced that the theme for the 2019 Fire Prevention Week, which takes place October 6–12, would be “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape.”

As you might imagine, a lot of work goes into choosing the FPW theme each year. The process begins nearly a year in advance and involves conversations with internal and external folks, as well as a review of key fire data to find areas where we might achieve the greatest impact. The idea is to find a topic that is actionable, one that will resonate with audiences of all ages, and one that will excite fire safety professionals to share it. Above all, it must tackle a challenging aspect of the fire problem that is critical for saving lives.

To see why home fire escape planning emerged as the choice for 2019, and why it’s crucial that public educators champion it, all you have to do is look at the news. In June, the same month we announced our theme, two fires struck hours apart in neighboring Ohio counties, killing six people, including four children. A week later, a home fire in Wisconsin claimed another six lives—four children ranging in age from 10 months to seven years, and two adults in their 30s. In all three instances, fast-moving fires left the victims with very little time to make it out alive.

Though tragic, these events are not anomalies. In fact, the number of home fire deaths in the United States each year has started to tick up recently, increasing 6 percent on average over the five-year period between 2013 and 2017, compared to the five years before. This troubling trend has a lot to do with the fact that today’s home fires burn faster than ever before. This is due to the way homes are built (i.e., open floor plans and unprotected lightweight construction) and what we are putting inside them (mainly synthetic, highly combustible furnishings). As a result, if a fire strikes, occupants could have as little as two minutes to escape—a task made even harder amid thick, blinding smoke that can make it nearly impossible to find your way out of a burning home.

This year’s theme is intended to drive home those startling facts and to provide people with simple tools to keep them and their families safe. The theme encourages residents to be their own heroes by developing and practicing a home escape plan with two essential elements: A drawn-out floor plan identifying two ways out of each room in case one is blocked by smoke or fire, and a family meeting place located a safe distance from the home where everyone can go and be accounted for. In creating this map, families should make sure they have working smoke alarms on every level of the home, inside and outside of each sleeping area. They should also check to see that all exits are free of clutter or furniture; if any obstructions exist, they should be cleared away so that nothing prevents occupants from getting out. Families should practice escaping from their home, and use a stopwatch to determine how quickly they can get out.

With home fires becoming deadly so quickly, the fire service may not be able to get there in time to assist a family in need of help. In that case, everyone has to do their part and be prepared to save themselves and those they care about. Be your own hero this year for Fire Prevention Week and teach others to be heroes. We need far fewer news stories about people who couldn’t escape fast enough.

To learn much more about home fire escape planning, visit

Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler