Working smoke alarms play an essential role in protecting your family at night, but firefighters want you to know that there is one more important thing that you should do before you turn in for the night. Firefighters are encouraging children and adults to sleep with their bedroom doors closed. Closing your bedroom door before you go to sleep will substantially improve your chances of surviving a fire in your home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of home fires decreases when people go to sleep. However, the NFPA also reports that fire deaths are at their highest late at night and in the early morning hours. More than half of all residential fire deaths occur in fires that start between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but the number of fire deaths peak when the fire is from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., when most people are in a deep sleep.

The “Close Your Door” fire safety program is intended to increase public awareness of a fire safety action that will help increase your chance of surviving a fire. Following years of research, the Firefighter Safety Research Institute, which is a part of Underwriters Laboratory Inc., has demonstrated conclusively that a simple change in your behavior, closing your bedroom door, will have a potentially lifesaving impact. Their research and tests have clearly proven that a closed bedroom door will improve your chances to survive if there is a fire in your home.

During repeated testing under live-fire conditions that simulated a residential structure fire, rooms with an open door had temperatures that were approximately 1,000 degrees, while rooms with a closed door had temperatures that were approximately 100 degrees. In addition, the overall amount of smoke and toxic gases were significantly lower in rooms with closed doors.

Why is closing your bedroom doors important? The Consumer Products Safety Commission notes that during a fire, smoke and deadly gases spread farther and faster than the actual fire. That is one reason why most victims die from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases as opposed to burns. A majority of fatal fires happen when families are asleep and unaware of the fire until there is not enough time to escape.

Please note that there are some drawbacks to this program. A primary concern is whether the sound of a smoke detector will be heard through a closed door. While smoke detectors in newer residences must be interconnected and installed inside and outside every bedroom, older homes are not required by law to have them. Of course, your local firefighters strongly encourage you to place interconnected smoke detectors in every bedroom as well as in the halls within 10 feet of every bedroom door.

Firefighters encourage you to test your alarms while someone is lying in bed to see if the alarm is loud enough. If you find that it is not loud enough, another alarm just outside the bedroom door should be added, and perhaps the door should be left open until an additional detector is installed. Adding the second alarm outside the bedroom should be a priority, so you can safely sleep with your bedroom door closed.

During a study conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, when a door was closed, smoke alarms sounded between 10 and 20 decibels softer in the next room. Having smoke alarms inside the bedrooms and on all floors makes it more likely that a sounding alarm will be loud enough to wake you up.

Closing your bedroom doors when you go to bed will provide an additional layer of protection between you and the fire. While closing doors throughout your home will always help slow the spread of a fire, closing your bedroom doors at night is even more important because you and your family are probably more likely to have delayed notification of the fire and will have less time to react and respond to the emergency due to suddenly being awoken from a deep slumber.

Remember, if you are able to escape, leave immediately and call 911 from a neighbor’s home or use a cell phone after you have left the house! However, if your exits are blocked, close the doors between you and the fire and call 911. The closed doors will slow the spread of the fire and give firefighters time to find you and help you escape. After you speak to an emergency dispatcher at 911, find a window and call for help to alert first responders of your location.

If you are able to leave your home, and if it is safe to do so, close the doors behind you, and leave them unlocked so firefighters can enter quickly. Simply closing the doors will help limit the spread of the fire by limiting the flow of air into the fire area. This will often prevent a fire from spreading quickly and will limit the overall property damage. Especially the damaging effects of smoke, which tends to spread heavily in advance of the fire.

For more information, please check out the website to learn more about the new “Close Your Door” public education campaign.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at

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