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Heeding the Alarm

By Johnicia Haynes

Two minutes is the amount of time that fire experts say you may have to safely escape a home fire before it’s too late. These crises account for most of the 60,000-plus disasters that the Red Cross responds to each year across the U.S. — where home fire responses are 30% higher during cold months than warmer times of year.

One Montgomery, AL native, Lynette Lawrence, attributes the quick reaction of her spouse to the sound of smoke alarms as pivotal in saving her family.

The fire began on the stove in the kitchen of their home. Her spouse attempted to douse the flames with flour as the family slept but was unsuccessful. He also tried to put out the fire with a water hose still without any success. By this time, he had alerted his family to exit the home. Using flour or water is never advised to put out a pan fire. Thankfully, the family escaped safely, but the fire destroyed their home.

Soon after, a Red Cross chaplain arrived on-scene. She says she is not sure who called the chaplain, “Maybe it was the fire department, but within an hour of the fire, the Red Cross was there".

After such a traumatic experience, she advises, “Just make sure your fire detectors [smoke alarms] are working and that you have batteries in them as you should.” She also says she is thankful to have a husband who quickly responded to the fire alarm. 

“I have nothing but good things to say. You guys helped us out when we needed it (financially especially), [and] when we needed somewhere to stay". The Red Cross also assisted her and her son with replacing asthma medication lost in the fire. Help keep your family safe by practicing your two-minute home fire escape drill and testing your smoke alarms — which can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half. Practice your plan with everyone in your household.

  • When practicing your plan, teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like and what to do in an emergency.

  • Include at least two ways to exit every room in your home. 

  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet. 

  • Place smoke alarms on each level of your home, including inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas. Test alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year, if your model requires it. 

  • Also check the manufacturer’s date of your smoke alarms. If they’re 10 years or older, they likely need to be replaced because components such as batteries can become less reliable. Follow your alarm’s manufacturer instructions.

  • Visit for more information, including an escape plan to practice with your family.

It’s important for everyone to be prepared for home fires. Depending on your household’s needs, there may be additional considerations to take into account as part of your home fire escape plan.

  • If you or a loved one is deaf or hard of hearing, install strobe light and bed-shaker alarms.

  • When practicing your escape plan, include any devices or people that can help you to get out safely.

  • Visit for more information, including resources in American Sign Language. (Note: Dashes are required for the URL to work.)

If you cannot afford to purchase smoke alarms or are physically unable to install one, the Red Cross may be able to help. 

  • Contact your local Red Cross, call 1-800-REDCROSS or go to for more information.

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