A fire can engulf a structure in a matter of minutes. Understanding the basic characteristics of fire and learning the proper safety practices can be the key to surviving a house or building fire.
Most people don't understand fire. Only when we know the true nature of fire can we prepare ourselves and our families. Each year more than 4,000 Americans die and more than 25,000 are injured in fires, many of which could be prevented.
Below are some simple facts that explain the particular characteristics of fire:
Fire is Fast!
In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house. In minutes, a house can be engulfed in flames. Most fires occur in the home when people are asleep. If you wake up to a fire, you won't have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly and the smoke is too thick. There is only time for escape.
Fire is Hot!
A fire's heat alone can kill. Room temperatures n a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt clothes to your skin. In five minutes a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once: this is called flashover.
Fire is Dark!
Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to findyour way around the home you've lived in for years.
Fire is Deadly!
Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented and short of breath. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape.
In the event of a fire, remember time is the biggest enemy and every second counts!
Install Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors more than double the chance of surviving a fire. Smoke detectors sense abnormal amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in the air. They can detect both smoldering and burning fires.
At least one smoke detector should be installed on every level of a structure.
Check them once a month and change the batteries twice a year. An easy way to remember is to change them when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
Purchase smoke detectors labeled by the Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
Develop and practice an escape plan
Make sure all family members know what to do in a fire.
- Draw a floor plan with at least two ways of escaping every room. Choose a safe meeting place outside the house.
- Practice alerting other household members. It's a good idea to keep a bell and a flashlight in each efroom for this purpose.
- Practice evacuating the building blindfolded. In a real fire situation, the amount of smoke genrated by a fire will most likely make it impossible to see.
- Practice staying low to the ground when escaping.
- Feel all doors before opening them. If the door is hot, get out another way.
- Learn to stop, drop to the ground, and roll if clothes catch fire.
- Purchase collapsible ladders at hardware stores and practice using them.
- Install A-B-C type fire extinguishers int he home and teach family members how to use them.
Post Emergency Numbers near telephones
However, be aware that if a fire threatens your home, you should not place the call to your emergency services from inside the home. It's better to get out first and place the call from somewhere else.
Do not store combustible materials in closed areas or near a heat source.
Keep the stove area clean and clear of combustibles such as bags, boxes, and other appliances. If a fire starts, put a lid over the burning pan or use a fire extinguisher. Be careful. Moving the pan can cause the fire to spread. Never pour water on grease fires.
Check electrical wiring
- Replace wiring if frayed or cracked.
- Make sure wiring is not under rugs, over nails, or in high traffic areas. Do not overload outlets or extension cords.
- Outlets should have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
- Only purchase appliances and electrical devices that have a label indicating that they have been inspected by a testing laboratory such as Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
Get out as quickly and as safely as possible.
Use the stairs to escape.
When evacuating, stay low to the ground. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth to avoid inhaling smoke and gases.
Close doors in each room after escaping to delay the spread of the fire.
If you are in a room with a closed door
- and smoke is pouring in around the bottom of hte door or it feels hot, keep the door closed.
- open a window to escape or for fresh air while awaiting rescue.
- and there is no smoke at the bottom or top and the door is not hot, then open the door slowly.
- if there is too much smoke or fire in the hall, slam the door shut.
Never return to a burning building for any reason; it may cost you your life!
Give first aid where appropriate
Seriously injured or burned victims should be transported to profesisonal medical help immediately.
Stay out of damaged buildings
Return home only when local fire authorities say it is safe.
Look for structural damage.
Discard food that has been exposed to heat, smoke, or soot.
Contact insurance agent
Don't discard damaged goods until after an inventory has been taken. Save receipts for any money spent relating to fire loss.
Heating devices such as portable heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces demand safe operation.
- Use portable heaters in well-ventilated rooms only.
- Refuel kerosene heaters outdoors only.
- Have chimneys and wood stoves cleaned annually.
- Buy only approved heaters and follow the manufacturers' directions.
Source: FEMA and U.S. Fire Administration