How would your family respond in a house fire?

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) It can change a family's life in an instant. It comes without warning and can be deadly. But there are things you can do to be prepared in case of a fire in your home.

You've heard you need to check your smoke detector twice a year, but what you might be missing is a family fire safety plan. How would your kids react if the smoke alarms went off in the middle of the night? WMBF News put one family to the test and it might just be the wake up call you need to get fire ready.

Thomas and John Mixon Bartels are your typical little boys who love legos, "Legos are easy to put together."

Now is play time, but later we're gonna put their teamwork to the test. Andy and Andrea Bartels decided this was the year they were creating a fire safety plan.

"They know what to do in a fire, stop drop and roll they learned that at school, but they don't know what to do at home," says dad, Andy Bartels.

The boys have rehearsed it a few times.

"We taught our oldest if there's smoke in the hallway, got down low, open his brother's door and say 'come on Thomas, lets go'," says mom Andrea Bartels.

Practice makes perfect, because as we all know, you never know when it could be the real thing.

"Fire doesn't discriminate and it can happen to anyone at anytime," says Lt. Christian Sliker of the Myrtle Beach Fire Department.

Fire investigators say there are some simple things you can do before there's ever a sign of smoke.

"We always want to have two ways out. We teach children and adults to check the door with the back of their hands to make sure it's not hot. If it's hot, there might be a fire behind it so you always need to have another way out."

Once you're out, stay out and immediately go to a meeting place that doesn't move, like the mailbox or a neighbor's house.

The Bartels have gone over all of this, but how will 5-year-old Thomas and 8-year-old John Mixon do when the alarm goes off while they're sound asleep?

It's just after 10 p.m., and the Bartels house is quiet. Until the siren goes off and Andy and Andrea wait to see how long it will take for the boys to react.

"Yeah I hear it. The alarms are going off. Let's see how they do," says Andrea.

Twenty seconds after the alarm sounds, big brother John Mixon is on the move. Seconds later, here comes Thomas.

Inside, the plan took an unexpected turn, a U-turn. Little Thomas was disoriented and decided to head back to the bathroom. Precious seconds go by and little Thomas is still in a fog.

Finally he sees big brother. One minute and 24 seconds after the alarm went off, the boys are out the front door. "You boys did great!"

Dad says, "Seeing how he was a little disoriented, we will practice a few more times so we know what to do. This was a good learning experience."

This time it was only a drill, but it just might be the most important test they'll take all year.

Fire officials say once you get a fire plan in place you should practice it once a month but at least two times a year. They also suggest going through the drill at night with the lights off, that way you can get a more realistic idea of low your visibility is during a fire and have your kids crawl to safety.

Other problems dispatchers run into is when kids don't know their address. They know to call 911 but can't tell first responders where they live. So practice with your kids as young as possible to recite their address, that way they will always be ready.

Fire crews also say having your house number visible from the house or on your mailbox will cut down their response time. Those extra minutes it might take to find your house could be the difference between saving your home or even saving a life.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.