Fire is an equal opportunity destroyer. Lives and property can be taken in an instant.

That’s why the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, in conjunction with the National Fire Protection Association, is stressing care and common sense during Fire Prevention Week, which we are marking through Saturday.

This year’s campaign is called “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape.” It recognizes everyday people who motivate their households to develop and practice a home fire escape plan. Having a strategy in place can absolutely have a life-saving impact when there’s no time to think, just react.

“From young students who learn about the campaign at school to parents who attend a community event like a fire station open house, all of them truly are heroes because they’re taking steps to make their households much, much safer from fire,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy for the NFPA.

House fires can start for any number of reasons, whether a stove was left on overnight, a cigarette was improperly discarded or an outlet or electrical wiring simply malfunctioned.

She noted these messages are more important than ever, particularly because today’s homes burn faster than ever. She said synthetic fibers used in modern home furnishings, along with the fact that newer homes tend to be built with more open spaces and unprotected lightweight construction, are contributing factors to the increased burn rate.

A home escape plan includes working smoke alarms on every level of the home, in every bedroom, and near all sleeping areas. It also includes two ways out of every room, usually a door and a window, with a clear path to an outside meeting place (like a tree, light pole or mailbox) that’s a safe distance from the home.

Home escape plans should be practiced twice a year by all members of the household.

According to the latest National Fire Protection Association research, about two-thirds of home fire deaths occurred in fires in which there was a non-working smoke alarm or no smoke alarm was present.

“All too often a tragedy occurs involving a dwelling fire that claims the life of an occupant and/or occupants,” State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said in a release. “Sadly, in many of these occurrences, a lack of operating smoke alarms is revealed during the investigation. It is our hope that Fire Prevention Week will help us reach folks throughout Maryland before they’ve suffered a tragic loss resulting from the effects of fire.”

The state fire marshal also reminds homeowners that state law since 2018 requires “battery-only” smoke alarms, once they reach their 10-year lifespan, be replaced with new long-life sealed lithium battery alarms with silence, or hush button, features. The hush button temporarily disables the alarm to ventilate during mild smoke conditions generated while cooking. The use of these alarms eliminates the need to replace the batteries during the alarm’s decade-long life.

According to the fire marshal’s office, Fire Prevention Week is actively supported by fire departments across the country. And why shouldn’t it be? These small, round ceiling devices can mean extra seconds, even minutes, in the event of a fire when the occupants of the home are unaware or asleep. And that can be the difference between life and death.

So be careful, have a plan in place, and practice it. Your life, and those of your family, could depend on it someday.