The American Red Cross urges families to prepare for and prevent a home fire during National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4-10.

This year’s theme is “Stay fire smart! Don’t get burned,” which focuses on burn prevention and home fire safety.

Many people don’t realize that when the local fire department responds to a house fire, the Red Cross also answers the call. The unsung heroes are Red Cross disaster volunteers, who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, often leaving behind friends, loved ones and warm beds in the middle of the night to meet with those affected by disaster.

“When we arrive, we work to immediately meet the emergency needs of those affected – providing shelter at a hotel if needed and financial assistance they can use to replace clothing, food, personal items and medications,” said Rebecca Maloney, director of the Vinita/Miami Service Center.

Last year, the local Red Cross assisted 81 families in Craig, Delaware and Ottawa Counties who were affected by a disaster. This response would not have been possible without the compassion of Red Cross volunteers and the dedication of financial donors who recognize how important Red Cross assistance is to a family who has lost everything.

“We are entering the colder months, which traditionally have higher rates of home fires,” Maloney said. “So this is a great time to think about fire safety.”

The American Red Cross encourages every family to make a plan in case of fire. Practice it twice a year with all members of your family.

Make sure every member of the family knows two ways to escape from every room — typically a door and window.

If you must exit through smoke, crawl low under the smoke.

Before escaping through a closed door, feel the door before opening it. If it is warm, use your second escape route.

If smoke, heat or flames block both of your exit routes, stay in the room with the door closed. Place a rolled towel underneath the door. Signal for help by waving a brightly colored cloth or shining a flashlight at the window.  If there is a telephone in the room, call the fire department and let them know your exact location inside the home.

Consider buying escape ladders for sleeping areas on the second or third floor. Make sure everyone in your home learns how to use them ahead of time by reading the manufacturer’s instructions and understanding the steps to use them. Store them near the window where they will be used.

Teach your family to have a meeting place outside the home — your neighbor’s mailbox, for example — so that during the fire everyone can be accounted for.

Once you’ve escaped your home, stay out. Never go back inside for any reason.

Finally, make sure that you have working smoke detectors. They should be placed outside every sleeping area and on every level of your home.

Batteries should be checked every month and replaced once a year.

Every 10 years, you should replace smoke alarms because they can become less sensitive over time and are often a source of nuisance alarms.

For more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information, visit www.oklahomaredcross.org.