Fire Safety Lessons from “This Is Us”

Whether you are a fan or not, you’ve likely heard of the popular television series “This Is Us,” a story-driven show which follows the life of a family from multiple generational angles. It has recently been trending in social media circles due to the most recent few episodes, which finally answered a question fans had been waiting to learn for well over a year: how did family patriarch Jack Pearson die?

The buildup in earlier episodes had made it pretty clear that a fire was involved, but when the actual moment arrived, many fans were stunned by how quickly the fire spread from its initialization point in the kitchen to the upstairs living areas. But the truth is, in today’s homes, fires have a big advantage. The increased use of synthetic materials in furniture, carpets, curtains, and other home fixtures has created a dramatic change in the flammability of these furnishings. In fact, a while back the “Today” show did a demonstration to show the amount of time it takes for a modern home to become engulfed in flame versus one from 30 years ago.

The experiment showed, whereas in the past you may have as much as 17 minutes to escape a fire in your house, the number is now three to four minutes, tops. In fact, the Red Cross and other fire expert agencies estimate the time as closer to two minutes before a spreading fire will prevent safe escape.

That’s why we have smoke detectors, right? Well, as “This Is Us” fans know, a smoke detector can only work if it is installed correctly and, more importantly, powered up. Last October, we celebrated Fire Prevention Week by discussing best practices for smoke detectors, but it’s a topic worth revisiting.

A smoke detector should be placed in every bedroom, one in each hallway, and at least one on each floor of your home, including the basement. In addition, one should also be installed near any heating source. For the best efficiency, smoke detectors should be mounted on the ceiling, at least a foot away from any corners. If it is possible to interconnect your smoke alarms, do it. That way, if one goes off, it triggers the sirens in all of them.

Because many smoke detectors are battery powered, another good practice is to test the batteries every month and replace them once each year. Not only does this ensure your devices are in good functioning condition, it also keeps you from having to deal with the low battery signal, which will inevitably start chirping in the middle of the night!

Age matters when it comes to smoke detector safety. A smoke detector should never remain in use for longer than ten years. Some are even equipped with an end-of-life signal to let owners know when it is time to replace them. You can determine the age of your smoke alarm by removing it from the wall or ceiling and checking the manufacturing date on the back of the casing. If you have alarms in your house that were manufactured over ten years ago, they should be replaced with new ones. Keep in mind a smoke alarm’s manufacturing date may be older than the date it was installed, ie – your home may have been built in 2003, but your smoke alarms could have been manufactured in 2001.

“This Is Us” is a fictional show, but it addresses a very real danger. Prepare your family for the possibility of a fire so you will hopefully never have to experience a tragedy like the Pearson family. For more tips on smoke alarm safety and general fire safety, such as how to make a fire escape plan, top causes of fire, and more, visit the NFPA’s public education website.