This Oct. 7-13 the American Red Cross is helping families and businesses learn how to protect themselves and others from fires in observance of National Fire Prevention Week.

Last year, the Red Cross responded to about 63,000 home fires across the country by providing comfort and basic necessities to more than 82,000 families.

"Across the U.S., we respond to about one house fire every nine minutes. The best thing you can do to protect your loved ones is to install a smoke alarm and develop and practice a fire escape plan," said Gordon Stewart, readiness and response manager for the American Red Cross East Central Chapter. "Because fires can spread very quickly, it's important for everyone at home, school and work to know what to do when they hear the sound of a smoke alarm."

Additional recommendations include:

Install smoke alarms on every level of the house and inside bedrooms.

Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year. Test each alarm monthly by pushing the test button.

Ensure that household members know two ways to escape from every room and designate a place to meet outside of your house in case of a fire.

Practice your plan at least twice a year.

Follow your escape plan in case of fire. Get out, stay out, and call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.

Download the American Red Cross First Aid App to get access to life-saving information on what to do for common, everyday first aid emergencies. The app is available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play for Android.

Visit for additional fire safety tips.

Business, too, should be prepared. Fire is the most common of all business disasters. According to the United State Fire Association, non-residential building fires resulted in $2.4 billion in losses in 2010.

Companies, schools and other organizations can learn how to prepare for fires and other emergencies by becoming a member of the Red Cross Ready Rating Program at

Complete a free, online assessment of your current readiness level and receive customized feedback with tips to improve preparedness.

In addition to helping families and businesses prepare their homes and facilities for potential fires, the Red Cross is there to help those in need when fires break out.

Last year, the East Central Chapter responded to approximately 291 local disasters such as home fires.

"In order to continue responding to home fires and other local disasters, the Red Cross depends on the generous support of individuals and businesses in the community," added Stewart.

All Red Cross disaster assistance is free and made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people.

You can help the victims of disaster events in Mississippi and thousands of other disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to American Red Cross Mississippi Region Disaster Relief.

Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters.

To make contributions, call 800-RED-CROSS or donate online at Contributions may also be sent to your local American Red Cross in Mississippi.