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Safeguarding Home

Editor's Note: As published in The Washington Blade.

Visible as far away as Ronald Reagan National Airport, it was like something out of a movie. Residents, retailers and visitors alike were all wondering what could cause such a fire, such thick, black, billowing smoke.

And then we heard it was a residential building. If you were in the Logan Circle neighborhood last Thursday around lunch, you probably saw the plumes rising through the air. It was alarming and scary.

It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare — a fire. As you read the news or saw video of the displaced residents, you might have asked yourself, “What would I do in a similar situation?”

Keeping your home and your family and friends, safe is a top priority for renters and homeowners. As the biggest investment most people make, ensuring that your home is protected is as important as finding the right home.

When you purchase a home, the mandatory “protection” items, like home insurance and title insurance, are always discussed. But what other precautions and protections should you consider to make sure your home and your family are prepared for an emergency like a fire?

Smoke detectors: We’ve been told since middle school when the firefighters visited our school in their turnout coats and hats to check our smoke alarms. Yet we often forget. So go ahead and do it today, push that red test button and ensure your alarm works. And, change out those batteries for good measure. A smoke alarm is one of your best defenses in a fire.

Carbon monoxide detectors: Once seen as frivolous, these important devices are now required in many jurisdictions and for good reason. Carbon monoxide comes from malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances, gas furnaces, vehicles and generators, just to name a few sources. It’s something you can’t see, taste, or smell, so having at least one detector in place is a must.

Talk to your board: If you live in a condo or co-op building, protecting your unit is top of mind, but is the building prepared? Get involved with your board to ensure they’re testing fire alarm equipment and extinguishers annually. Confirm that exit signs illuminated and visible. Make sure fire doors are in place as they can reduce the spread of fire.

Test your windows: Part of the wonderful charm of D.C. is our many historic buildings. From row houses to 1920s apartment buildings-turned-condos or co-ops, we are dripping in beautiful architecture. Those old windows, however, can be tough to open. And if you’re inside when a fire hits, you need an escape route. Check all of your windows to make sure you can open them easily in case of an emergency.

Write a plan: What would you do in an emergency? How would you exit your home or building? Where would you and your family or friends meet as a safe rally point in the event of an emergency? While it sounds scary to think about, you need to know where your exits are, how to get out and where you will meet up so you can locate everyone you love, quickly.

Safeguard personal business information: If your home is damaged or destroyed by a fire, having all of your personal business information accessible elsewhere will be important. Gather a list of personal business information and store it outside of your home. Include credit card account numbers, insurance policies, a copy of your car title, a copy of the deed to your house, a spare set of car and house keys, driver’s license and passport copies, your will and living will, as well as phone numbers to all the key people and businesses in your life.

Consider using a safe deposit box or turning to technology like Evernote or another cloud-based system to keep copies of documents. Have a friend or work colleague you trust keep a set of your keys. And memorize, yes memorize, at least three of your most important contact’s phone numbers. If your beloved smart phone is in the house during the emergency, you will want to make sure you have the number of someone to call who can help.

As fall sets in and you begin to nest inside a little more, take a few minutes to step away from Netflix and get your home emergency ready.

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