The new year brings opportunity for change, and many residents want to know what they can do to help others. Your local first responders are encouraging you to also focus on helping yourself by prioritizing safety when you make your New Year’s resolutions. By installing highly visible address numbers, residents can help fire, police, and medical personnel improve emergency response times.

Your house number may not seem to be a very important element of your outdoor landscaping, but you should not disregard this little detail. While some house number designs are simply made of materials that are not very visible, some residents have failed to number their homes at all. Poorly marked homes, and homes with no numbers at all, slow emergency response times. If you cannot see your house number when you drive up to your home in the daylight, then imagine how difficult it would be for first responders to see it, and how much more challenging it would be to see it in darkness, rain or snow.

As part of their ongoing community risk-reduction efforts, first responders are asking residents and business owners to “Help Us Help You.” Seconds can make a huge difference in response to an emergency. Local firefighters are continuing their educational campaign to remind property owners of the common methods used to regulate and require the numbering of all structures to reduce confusion and decrease their response time.

Even if the emergency is not a life-or-death situation, the length of time that someone may be in great discomfort or inconvenienced can be impacted by the time it takes to find an address. Emergency responders do not always know the exact location of every residence in your town, and if the responders are coming as mutual aid from a nearby town, it is even less likely they will be familiar with your location. When responding to an emergency call, police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel look for house numbers when they first arrive to verify they are at the correct location. If you have numbers that blend in with the siding of your home or are not visible at night, it makes it hard for emergency personnel to help you.

There are a few simple things that you can do to help first responders help you. Make sure your number is posted and has not become faded or detached from the house or mailbox from typical wear and tear from weather. Verify that your numbers are large enough to be seen from the road. First responders suggest the numbers be a minimum of 4 inches tall. If your front door is visible from the road, the numbers should be placed near the front door in a location that will not become obstructed, and in a place that will always be visible from the road. To verify that your numbers can be seen easily, stand at the end of your driveway or in the road to see how visible they are. Please note that many towns have ordinances regarding the size, color and location of the numbers.

Sometimes a post at the end of a driveway makes more sense. For example, Westerly’s Ordinance 94-6 Display of Numbers states that if the house is more than 50 feet from the road, the house number should be visible and posted at the street line. Remember, it is important to position the numbers at the street line either on the mailbox or high on a post, rather than on a small yard sign. Although yard signs, engraved rocks, and logs may be more aesthetically pleasing to homeowners, they are not acceptable because they can easily be moved or become covered by snow or growing vegetation.

Your house numbers will be most visible if they are a color that clearly contrasts the color of your home. Consider reflective numbers so your address is highly visible when the emergency lights of responding vehicles reflect off them. Remember, these numbers could be a lifesaver in case of an emergency, so you want to make sure you have them visible, large, and in an appropriate color!

Keep in mind that when putting the number on your mailbox, it should be placed on both sides of the box. Mailboxes often only have a number on one side to accommodate mail deliveries, but this is not helpful to first responders who could arrive from either side of the mailbox.

There are many first responders willing and able to help you in an emergency.  You can make their job a little easier by making your address more visible and your home easier to locate. We cannot help you if we cannot find you. For more information about house numbering in your town, call your town hall, visit your hometown website, or just Ask a Firefighter.

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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