House fires are overwhelmingly one of the most common and the most dangerous personal disasters that any prepper could face. What is worse is that most people, including people who should know better, underestimate them because they aren’t some big, dramatic regional catastrophe that justifies the purchase of survival gear.
But they will be disaster enough if you should be the unfortunate victim of one: temperatures soaring to over a thousand degrees, virtually zero visibility and deadly, toxic smoke and fumes that can overcome even the healthy in seconds.
Residential fires are no joke, and in the United States alone there are over 350,000 house fires that occur annually. Altogether, these fires result in thousands of deaths, tens of thousands more injuries and billions upon billions of dollars in property damage.
House fires can begin for all kinds of reasons, and they get bad fast. You must be prepared to react instantly if you hope to survive one, much less stop one.
That means you’ll need to have a plan, and a central part of any fire response plan is having the right equipment to both fight, and provide for escape during a house fire.
In today’s article I will share with you thirteen essentials that you absolutely must have on hand and stockpiled if you hope to be ready for the fateful day when your home catches fire.
Table of Contents
House Fires are a Major and Endemic Threat
The threat to life a house fire poses should be obvious but for many survivors the worst blow comes in the aftermath. Much of the time, a house fire results in a total loss of a structure and the possessions that people have accumulated over a lifetime.
Every photograph, every trinket, every toy and every piece of clothing, gone, consumed by the flames or ruined by smoke and water.
For preppers in particular, this is a terrible double-whammy as, aside from being dispossessed and homeless in the interim, the vast majority of your carefully and studiously stockpiled preps that serve as the hedge against further disaster are quite literally gone- up in smoke.
When you stop to consider that the onset of some other major disaster you have prepared for could result in your house, your redoubt against the perils you will surely face catching fire in the opening round of the scenario. That is a heck of a thing to worry about.
For that reason, the onus is on every prepper, no matter if they are an apartment dweller, a homeowner, a homesteader or a suburban renter to have a plan and have the materials needed for dealing with a house fire.
Acting quickly enough might let you smother a house fire before it brews up into a major inferno, or perhaps just keep it at bay until the professionals arrive to deal with it.
In a worst-case scenario, you may escape with your most precious possessions: the lives of your family and yourself.
Equipment Requirements for Dealing with a House Fire
Any fire that starts in a residential structure goes from emergency to completely uncontrollable and unsalvageable in very short order. The threat to life, to say nothing of the structure itself, climbs precipitously every second the fire is burning.
For that reason, any equipment you stockpile in an effort to respond to and potentially contain or escape a house fire must meet certain criteria:
You will have no time to waste once you are alert to the presence of a fire in your home. A single errant spark, a toppled candle or a minor kitchen accident can go from small flame to towering inferno in 30 seconds or less. About a minute after that, perhaps two, your house will be totally on fire and essentially lost.
Any equipment you want to have on hand for fighting or escaping the fire must be capable of doing its job in seconds, or else it isn’t worth having. It must be able to reduce or extinguish the fire quickly, or help get you out of the home just as fast.
A house fire is so lethal it leaves no room for half measures. If you were going to fight the fire it must be put out and stay out. If you’re going to escape any tool must either ensure your escape or prolong your ability to survive inside your smoke-filled home.
No in-betweens, no maybes and definitely no do-overs when dealing with a house fire.
Dealing with any house fire however you choose to deal with it is going to be a high-stress situation, compounded by the terrible conditions produced by one. Any gear you plan on using must be stupid simple, and easy for everyone in the family to use.
Considering you will be dealing with lowered visibility, asphyxiating smoke and fumes, and a rapidly ticking clock no item you are going to rely on should take more than one or two steps to effectively employ. Complicating any plan by using complicated, hard-to-use gear is a foolish, and potentially deadly mistake.
With those requirements in mind, let’s get to the list!
House Fire Stockpile List
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1) Fire Extinguishers
You knew going into this article that this was going to be at the top of the list. If you do not have fire extinguishers of the correct size, type and rating in your home, you’re basically planning on allowing it to burn down when anything more than a tiny fire catches inside it.
Only fire extinguishers have the portability, range, speed and efficiency required to enable a homeowner to put out a proper blaze.
If you are planning on grabbing bowls or buckets of water or just sprinting outside to get the garden hose turned on before running back inside, you are dreaming.
Just as important as having a fire extinguisher is having the right kind in the right quantity. Generally speaking, you want multiple, large (or at least as large as you and your family members can handle swiftly) extinguishers that have an ABC rating.
That means the extinguishing agent the unit carries is capable of putting out everything except a flammable metal fire which is not something likely to occur inside the average home in America.
Proper placement of your fire extinguishers is an essential part of a firefighting strategy. You want them anywhere that a fire is likely to occur and also near bedrooms for easy access if you are awake.
But take care in placing them that they are readily available and easy to grab, not buried underneath mountains of crap that will slow you down and also not located in such a way that they are likely to be consumed by the fire before you can reach it, say right next to the stove as an example.
Once you have your fire extinguisher selected, take the time to familiarize yourself with them, and periodically have them inspected and serviced by a qualified and licensed technician so they remain in peak condition and ready to be put to instant use.
2) Extinguisher Balls
Extinguisher balls are a seemingly radical take on a well-known and time-tested technology. Just now making a comeback in the second decade of the 21st century, extinguisher balls have actually been around for a very long time, and only fell out of favor in the first half on the twentieth century.
The premise is that these are a heat-sensitive container, most typically a sphere, which contains an extinguishing agent that will erupt from the vessel once heated to a certain degree, or broken open.
In essence, extinguisher balls work pretty much how you are imagining, being hurled or rolled toward the source of a fire and once there breaking open on impact or popping open once heated for a few seconds by the fire.
Think of these sort of like a fire extinguishing grenade, only about the size of a bowling ball and one that spreads extinguishing chemicals, not shrapnel.
Extinguisher balls have similar ratings to conventional fire extinguishers, and can be either kept with them as a portable, ranged firefighting tool, or installed in simple brackets as a fire suppression system.
When dealing with fires in confined spaces, vehicles and other situations where a fire extinguisher might be difficult to access or bring to bear, extinguisher balls are an excellent option that can help you control or corral a blaze before it becomes truly uncontrollable, or clear a path through a fire where one does not otherwise exist.
3) Escape Ladder
This is one item that you won’t need if you live on the first floor of an apartment building, or have a single-story ranch home, but if you live in a multi-story home or live off the ground floor in apartment building, listen up: a compact escape ladder is an essential fire readiness tool.
Chances are you have seen these in operation even if you don’t own one or know anyone who does. These ladders are specially designed with an extremely compact footprint when stowed, and come in a great many designs.
Designed to be securely and safely anchored to the inside of a window sill on deployment, Escape ladders can take the form of a rolled rope ladder with metal rungs or cleats, an accordion-style collapsible ladder, a telescopic caving style ladder or anything else in between.
These should be kept in every second floor bedroom, or conveniently placed at opposite ends of any above ground floor so long as it can reach the ground below or just get close to it to enable an evacuee to jump.
These devices are typically designed to be quickly and reliably set up by anchoring them and then tossing, or quickly lowering them through an open window, but practice is crucial both for safety and for confidence in a time-is-life situation.
No matter what kind of escape ladder you select, ensure that it remains in a designated spot and is kept free and clear of all obstructions and other detritus that might accumulate near it.
4) Smoke Hood
Think of a smoke hood as sort of a single-use disposable gas mask, designed to be quicker and easier to don irrespective of hairstyle or facial hair.
You might think popping on a gas mask is the last thing you should worry about when a building is on fire, but you might come away with a different point of view once you learn that the vast majority of human deaths and casualties stemming from a house fire come from the smoke and vapors that are inhaled resulting in asphyxiation, not the flames themselves.
Smoke hoods are excellent additions to every bedroom in a home, as one of the most dangerous instances of house fire is the one where you are awakened from a sound sleep with a fire already well underway and your living quarters partially or completely full of smoke.
Aside from reducing your visibility, that smoke will sap your strength, make you light-headed and potentially knock you out which is almost certain death in a house fire.
A smoke hood is quick and easy to don, and features an extraordinary efficient filter that will allow you to breathe clean air while you make your escape, very important if you have to move through a smoke-filled area on your way out.
A smoke hood is doubly important if you are responsible for gathering and evacuating any children or other people in the home that are dependent upon help for rescue.
The extra minute or two you spend in the structure breathing smoke all the while is more than enough to incapacitate you. This is where a smoke hood can make all the difference.
5) Smoke Detector
Though it comes in at number five on our list, the humble smoke detector is one of the most vital, and sadly one of the most neglected pieces of fire safety and prevention equipment.
A smoke detector is essential for early warning that a fire is present and underway, and modern models can detect even the faintest traces of burned particulate in the air, well before you can smell it- especially when you are sound asleep!
Most people that have smoke detectors in their homes don’t have enough of them, and oftentimes don’t have them cited correctly.
What models they do have are often neglected, with backup batteries being either omitted or left to die so long as the smoke detector is not making that annoying twice-a-minute chirp that is typical when its batteries are low.
Your smoke detectors should be placed in the hallways outside of dwelling areas, in the kitchen, and inside every bedroom to ensure the earliest warning possible when a fire is detected. Bonus points if your smoke detectors are networked so that they all go off when any given one does.
It should go without saying, but make sure you replace the batteries annually even if the smoke detector is not giving any low battery warning. Plan to replace them on your birthday if that helps you remember to do it.
6) Fire Blanket
Fire blankets, as the name suggests, are safety devices designed to put out fires that are just starting to get out of control, or smaller fires burning on a person or an object. They accomplish this by breaking one leg of the fire triangle; oxygen.
Without heat, fuel and oxygen a fire cannot exist, and a fire blanket cuts off the oxygen supply to the fire by smothering it and thereby extinguishing it.
Fire blankets are as a general rule made out of fire resistant fibers typically kevlar or fiberglass though older blankets were made out of asbestos. Some fire blankets are made from wool and treated with additional fire retardant chemicals.
The value of a fire blanket comes from its multi-purpose nature. A fire blanket is just as effective at smothering a fire that has grown out of control as it is putting out a person that has caught fire.
They are simplicity itself needing only to be removed and unfolded before being laying over the offending fire or wrapped around the person who has caught fire. To help expedite this, fire blankets are often stored in such a way as to quickly unfurl when removed from their holder or container.
Fire blankets aren’t perfect, and though they make an excellent complement to fire extinguishers they do fall short of their cousins in a couple of aspects.
First, under certain conditions the fuel contributing to the fire might remain hot enough that if the blanket is removed prematurely the fire could reignite.
Second, certain types of fires, namely those started by fat or oil, will not go out easily, and can prevent secondary hazards as the scalding hot liquid is absorbed into the fabric of the blanket.
Like any other firefighting tool, education and practice along with a thorough understanding of the limitations of your device are essential to getting the most out of it.
Nonetheless, fire blankets are affordable, fast and effective fire-fighting tools that many homeowners neglect.
In frontier towns back in the day, and even some modern areas without the benefit admissible water supplies and formal firefighting departments, a “bucket brigade” was used to fight any fires that broke out.
A bucket brigade functions as a human conveyor belt that runs from a well or nearby pond or any other source of water near the fire with teams of people relaying buckets hand over hand in order to get them to the source of the fire quickly and hopefully put it out before it gets too bad.
While the efficacy of a bucket brigade depends on many factors, you can’t have one without buckets, and even today a supply of buckets pre filled with water can make all the difference when the time comes to fight a fire in an austere environment or after all other efforts fail.
There is nothing particularly special about this strategy except to say that water will douse a fire if applied in a great enough quantity quickly enough.
If you want to keep some empty buckets handy or keep them ready and filled with water just in case you should choose a bucket that is large enough to make a difference with its payload but small enough that it is easy to haul, hoist and splash at its target.
For this purpose, a two and a half gallon to five gallon bucket is about the right size depending on your fitness level.
If you live on a homestead or other remote property that is far beyond the timely intervention of even the nearest fire department it is even more important did you keep some buckets filled with water for firefighting duty just in case wherever you might need them, be it home, barn, workshop or stable.
Sometimes there is no other way around it and you’ll have to fight a fire yourself. The best tool for sustained fire fighting is a directed stream of water supplied constantly, and pretty much the only way to get that as a civilian is from your very own spigot using your own garden hose.
While this should never be your first choice option unless you have to deal with a fire near the edge of your property and have time to react, sometimes all other options are exhausted and you have to do what you have to do.
It is in your best interest to have plenty of hoses on hand, connected and tested especially going into Wildfire season. Burning embers and sparks from wildfires can travel a surprising distance resulting in smaller flare-ups ahead of the main blaze that can easily be dealt with using a charged hose so long as you can reach the source.
You don’t want to wind up in a “Three Stooges” scenario where you take off running with your hose only to have it reached the end of its length, and snap out of your hands in comedic fashion while your property burns up.
Pretty much any hose can do for this purpose if it will supply the water, but as with all things you typically get what you pay for and you should choose hoes that are durable with high quality connections that will not degrade or rot in short order.
Any leak reduces pressure, pressure that you might will need in order to get the range and volume necessary for having a positive effect on the fire.
9) High-Pressure Water Pump
For serious DIY fire fighting, such as battling a crop fire or an encroaching wildfire front you’re going to need to use stuff that is the equivalent to what the pros use, and that means you’ll need a portable high-pressure water pump with a correspondingly high-pressure and high-volume hose.
These mobile or semi mobile pumps are designed to push many hundreds of gallons of water per minute through the attached hose and make a typical garden hose look like a spray bottle in comparison.
These devices are expensive to obtain and maintain, and having a plan as well as an appropriately large source of water like a pond, pool or buffalo (water carrier) is mandatory, as they will drain any insubstantial body or container of water in seconds flat.
But if you have a property that is particularly vulnerable to fires and you have the resources, water and plan to go with it, there is absolutely nothing better for the purpose of DIY fire fighting.
Be advised these are big boy tools with big boy consequences for mishaps, meaning the recoil and volume of water that comes out of these high-caliber hoses is another order of magnitude greater than that of any garden hose.
They are dangerous, and you must carefully select a pump and hose based on what you can handle and then get training and its use before relying on it.
10) Fire-Resistant Boxes
Yes, your first priority during any house fire should be to get out once the blaze has reached a non-manageable level. Face it, your house and almost everything in it will be lost but you’ll be alive!
Take heart that even in the case of the building burning down entirely, some things will remain even if they are damaged, and you can increase the chances of saving your most important items like jewelry, cash money, important documents, and other things by placing them in an easy to transport fire safe box.
These boxes are typically sized like an extra large lunch box or a medium briefcase and have room for quite a few items.
No, nothing that is consumed by flames for a long period of time will survive, but they can keep things safe from high ambient heat or a quick burn for a reasonable amount of time.
This affords you the opportunity to reach the box and extract it from the burning building in a hurry while protecting the contents during transport. They are especially handy when kept near an escape route in the home.
There are never any guarantees as the average house fire burns at well over a thousand degrees ,and can raise the temperature inside the box to spontaneous ignition levels for paper.
But compared to just leaving those items to take their chances in cabinets and cupboards, or in drawers and in closets they are cheap insurance and give you a chance to save your valuables.
11) Rescue Decals
If there is one thing you can count on in an emergency is that the first responders will never have a complete and accurate picture of exactly what is going on and who is involved, meaning who is still at risk.
Yes, obviously the firefighters that show up to your house or other structure that is on fire will know that it is indeed on fire, but depending on who called it in and how long ago it was they may not know how many potential victims (meaning your friends and family members) are still inside.
There is one way to give firefighters and other emergency personnel a leg-up on the situation with very little delay or confusion in communication, and that is by using a simple rescue decal.
A rescue decal is a sticker or appliqué that adheres near a door or window on your home and indicates how many people are inside the house, nominally. It typically has a space for adults as well as children and also pets.
In the confusion and mad scramble that will occur when the firefighters show up and start doing their thing, this will let them know to rescue people still trapped in the building and so make an informed decision as to who might still be there.
Testimony from victims that have already been rescued will also be helpful in this matter, but rescue decals will help to guide the first responders’ efforts even with a total lack of information from others.
12) Fire Doors
Fire doors are a great idea for residential applications, but are sadly neglected due to their cost and weight. A fire door is typically made out of metal, gypsum or composite material “sandwiches” that are unlikely to catch fire or burn quickly in the opening minutes of a fire.
While they may burn after exposure to a high enough temperature for a long enough period of time, by the time this occurs they have already done their job of slowing the spread of the fire and potentially keeping you alive if you happen to be trapped inside the burning building.
Some fire doors also feature expanding seals that will tightly close the gap between the door and the frame it is fitted to once the temperature rises enough, preventing or slowing the passage of smoke, too.
I have already mentioned several times in the course of this article how dangerous smoke is to house fire victims so you can chalk this up as another perk of fire doors. Remember you are far more likely to be killed by smoke inhalation than flames!
Contrary to popular belief fire doors don’t have to be boxy, ugly contractions that look totally out of place in a residential setting. Modern fire doors can be had in a variety of styles, colors and other decorative details, and are typically capable of being painted to match any interior color scheme.
But most other fire safety equipment fire doors are sold according to class and category, with more expensive and elaborate units costing more but affording higher temperature resistance and longer times before they finally catch fire.
You get what you pay for, so don’t skimp on your interior doors and potentially risk what is most valuable to you- the lives of your family members and yourself. Outfit your home with fire doors and you might just be buying the time that makes all the difference in the world should your house catch fire.
13) Fire-Resistant Paint
Fire resistant paint is a bit of a marvel. Upon exposure to high heat, the paint leeches out a flame-resistant chemical that forms a thin physical barrier preventing the material it is applied to from catching fire as quickly as it would without it.
It will not completely prevent something from bursting into flames, but when it eventually does it also serves to slow the spread and encourage the fire to go out more readily.
Fire-resistant paints work by toppling another leg of the fire triangle I mentioned above, this time the “fuel” leg; all fires need some kind of fuel in order to burn. Most things will burn under the right circumstances but high up on that list are a wide array of residential building materials.
Since the materials themselves are inherently flammable, you can tip the odds back in your favor I’ve successfully fighting off a fire before it gets too bad by applying a coating to those flammable materials that will help make them less so.
Fire-resistant paints are applied just like any other paint with the exception that they require somewhat more careful attention to ambient conditions and application thickness. Also, as a rule, they require an equally special primer in order to function.
Think of fire-resistant paint as a finish system, and skipping or skimping on any one component could lead to total system failure.
Fire-resistant paints are pretty expensive compared to most off the shelf hardware store paints, but in conjunction with fire doors and extinguishing systems featured elsewhere on this list you can dramatically increase the amount of time it takes for fire to spread throughout your house and immolate it.
Residential fires are deadly, fast and altogether too common. You have few choices when it comes to dealing with them, and whether you want to escape or think you have the nerve and the time to tackle the blaze and potentially save your home, you will need the right equipment to backup your careful planning.
Make sure you stock up on all of the items we have listed above so you will have the correct tools for the job in case you ever have to survive a house fire.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.