The very nature of emergencies means that they’re a surprise. That’s why having a “go bag” with essentials is a good idea—so you’ll have the basics if you need to evacuate in a hurry—and making changes to your house to make it safer during emergencies is a great idea. Something else you need to do is have a plan for escaping your house, because when something like a house fire strikes it’s all adrenaline and panic; you need to do your thinking ahead of time.
Even when people do make home-escape plans, though, they often fail to consider how much harder it is to escape your house if you’re trapped on the upper floors by an obstruction or fire. Having a plan for an upper-floor escape requires four crucial things that you hopefully will never need, but will help you sleep better at night once you have them.
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The most important thing you need in case of an emergency like a fire is a way out of the house that doesn’t involve jumping into a rose bush from the second floor and praying you don’t break your legs. For a normal two- or three-story house, your best bet is a window escape ladder. You hook the ladder to your window, let it drop to the ground below, and you instantly have a safe way to climb down to the ground. When your house is not actively on fire, you can store it out of the way—just make sure everyone in the house knows where it is and how to use it.
You can find escape ladders that are up to 24 feet long, which is enough for most homes, but what if you live in a high rise? If you can open and fit through a window, you could invest in something like the SkySaver Rescue Backpack, which is essentially a repelling kit in a bag. You install a bolt over the window, and if you need to get out of your apartment the hard way, you put on the backpack, secure it, connect the cable to the bolt, and then drop out the window and lower yourself down gently. It’s kind of wild, but it can hold almost 300 pounds and can lower you up to 260 feet (about 25 stories). You can also purchase add-ons for small children.
If you have pets or small children who won’t be able to climb down an escape ladder, you should have something prepared for them as well. For pets, having some extra carriers or crates on the upper floors that they can be placed and carried in is a good idea—the last thing you need to be doing during an emergency is hunting for a cat carrier.
You should also consider a dedicated pet and child rescue sling or carrier. X-It sells a Baby Escape Bag that can also be used for small pets that’s pretty straightforward. And there are many other options that all operate along the same lines: You place your pet or child into a container and lower them to the ground safely.
Portable fire extinguishers
In case of fire, having some small, portable fire extinguishers stored on every floor of the house is a very good idea. You won’t use them to put out a fire that’s bad enough to make you flee in terror, but they will be very useful if you or your loved ones catch fire while racing through the flames, or if your chosen escape window starts to catch fire before you can slip through it.
Evacuation masks or hoods
Whether it’s smoke from a fire, gas leaking, or some other form of airborne threat, having a way to filter the air you’re breathing while making your escape is a very good idea. Most deaths as the result of a fire are caused by smoke inhalation, not direct contact with the flames, after all, so a fire mask or hood for everyone in your family will help you stay conscious and alert during the escape and avoid health complications later.
For fire escapes, a hood-style mask is your best option. They’re much easier to put on under the high stress of an emergency and don’t need to be fitted tightly. Most will give you about an hour of breathing time, which should be plenty of time to get the hell out of the house, and they will also reflect heat away from your head and keep smoke out of your eyes. Keep in mind that these are single-use items that have a defined shelf life—be sure to check how often your mask has to be replaced before it becomes ineffective.