Kate Nichols climbs down a fire ladder while her sister Emily Nichols watches from the ground. The teens and their parents Brenda and Chris Nichols practice regular home fire drills. Credit: Brenda Nichols

When it comes to keeping your home and its inhabitants safe, preparation is key. While it’s not fun to think about emergencies that can cause injuries, death or property damage, the reality is accidents happen every day. According to experts, the difference between a safe outcome and disaster are the steps taken before anything happens.

Here are eight things your home should always have to keep you and other occupants safe and healthy.

Smoke detectors

The documented evidence that smoke detectors save lives is extensive and sobering. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 40 percent of home fire deaths were in homes with no smoke alarms, with 17 percent of deaths in homes with non-working alarms. Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors save lives, period. If there is a fire in your home, the smoke will spread quickly. Smoke alarms provide an early warning, giving you time to get out of the house.

You should have a working smoke detector on each floor of your house and one outside each bedroom. A good rule of thumb when it comes to changing their batteries is to do it at the same time you change your clocks by an hour in the spring and fall. For extra security, consider installing smoke alarms that are wired directly into your home’s electrical system with battery backups.

Carbon monoxide detectors

These are every bit as important as smoke detectors, and you can get combination alarms that sense both smoke and the colorless, odorless carbon monoxide gas. According to the United States Occupational Health Safety Organization, carbon monoxide results from incomplete burning of anything containing carbon including natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, heating oil, propane, coal or wood. Inhaled in sufficient quantities, carbon monoxide can cause you to quickly lose consciousness and eventually suffocate.

A working carbon monoxide detector and alarm will give you the warning you need to get out of your house safely.

Portable fire extinguishers

Having a working portable fire extinguisher and knowing how to use it can be a good initial defense in responding and containing a small fire in your home. The National Fire Protection Association recommends a multi-use extinguisher suitable for all types of home fires, including those fueled by paper in a waste basket or grease on the stove. It should be large enough to put out a small fire but not too heavy to physically handle.

Keep your fire extinguisher near an exit, and if you do need to use it to control a small fire, always keep your back to that exit and be ready to turn and run out if the fire gets too hot to handle on your own.

Evacuation plan

Fire, natural disasters or other dangerous situations can leave you just minutes to get to safety. The time to plan an escape route is not during an emergency. Take time to create, review and practice an emergency evacuation plan with everyone living in your home. Make sure the plan includes exit points and who is responsible for making sure small children, vulnerable adults with limited mobility and pets get out safely. Also make sure you have an established meeting place outside the home where you can gather after evacuating.

Fire ladder

Any bedrooms above your home’s ground level should contain a fire ladder that is long enough to reach the ground from the window. The most common type of fire ladder is designed to be rolled or coiled for storage until needed. Make sure everyone knows where these ladders are in the bedrooms and how to properly deploy them.

The ladders should be strong enough to support multiple people at once.

First aid kit

Pre-assembled or homemade first aid kits are important to have on hand to deal with minor injuries. Whether you buy your kit already filled or decide to make your own, check it every few months to make sure it is well stocked, replacing anything that has passed its expiration date.

Items to have in your kit include a first aid manual, band aids, hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, saline drops, cotton balls and swabs, a thermometer, latex gloves, an ace bandage, scissors, safety pins, needles and tweezers.

A home safe

A small fire and waterproof safe is a smart thing to keep in your home. Inside, you can store important documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, vehicle titles and the deed to your home so they’re protected in the event of a disaster. You can also stash hard-to-replace sentimental items in your safe like family photographs, letters and other mementos.

Important phone numbers

These days most people have important contacts preloaded on their smartphones, but a written list of phone numbers — posted in a visible location — can still come in handy if you need to retrieve a number quickly. This list of numbers should include contact information of family members, neighbors and family health care providers including veterinarians and poison control.

Taking time to plan for emergencies in your home can save you a great deal of pain, loss, expense and inconvenience down the road.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.