In February, a three-alarm fire ripped through the Mountain Shadows apartment complex near 3900 South and 700 West. Panicked residents jumped out of third-story windows and even tossed their children off the balcony, hoping people waiting below would catch them.

South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote on Monday said it was not necessary for those residents to jump.

Firefighters across the nation will have such incidents in mind this week as they join together to mark National Fire Prevention Week. This year's theme is "Practice Your Escape Plan."

In the Mountain Shadows incident, Foote said the fire was still far enough away from the third floor that tenants could have just shut their doors, placed a towel across the bottom and waited for fire crews to arrive and rescue them.

"They should have just stayed put," Foote said.

Firefighters will be stressing this week that families — especially those with children — should talk about what they should do if there is a fire in their home. Children need to know an evacuation plan, how to activate 911, where to meet once they get outside and even what to do if they are on the second floor or higher when a fire starts.

Many times, a house fire turns tragic because a child's first instinct is to hide in a closet or under a bed.

"The kids get so scared and overwhelmed that they hide rather than get out," Foote said.

Unified Fire Authority Capt. Jay Fearnley said escape plans should be practiced for both day and night.

"Statistically, people who have an escape plan have a much better chance of getting out safely," he said.

Once that plan is made, safety officials recommended:

• Maps of the escape plan posted in each room.

• Holding fire escape drills at least twice a year.

• Closing the door behind you after you leave a room or the house.

The National Fire Protection Association's Web site,, also lists tips for people on how to plan escape routes if there is a person with a disability in the house, for people who live in high-rises and those who live in manufactured homes.

The UFA will hold a departmentwide open house Thursday afternoon. South Salt Lake Fire is continuing to make stops at the schools in its city, holding assemblies with students to teach them fire safety.

Even though this is fire safety week, because of the busy schedules of both the fire department and the schools, Foote said some assemblies are scheduled as late as December.

In 2006, firefighters across the United States responded to 396,000 residential fires resulting in 2,580 deaths and 12,500 injuries, according to the South Jordan Fire Department.