Our recent safety articles have addressed what to do to prevent commonly known causes of fire. Now let us talk about what to do if a fire breaks out. The obvious answer is to get out of the house quickly. But did you realize a fire may spread through the house in as little as two minutes! The window of escape may vanish in the time it takes to find great grandma’s prized necklace. As with many safety themes, preparedness saves lives. Most home fires occur at night after we have gone to bed.
Common reactions to fire are fear, confusion, panic, as well as poor vision due to smoke, contribute to slower response times to “getting out”. Thus, a clear and well-rehearsed escape plan that includes every member of the family is essential. One further caution before moving on to how to escape from the house: Unless the fire is small and well contained do not waste the window of time to get everyone out, by attempting to put the fire out yourself. Call 911 as soon as you are out of the house.
What goes into a good escape plan? Solid escape route tips:
- Draw a map of your home showing all the doors and windows.
- Discuss the plan with all members of the household. Special attention should be given to any member with special needs: Children, Senior citizens, any member with a disability, particularly if they are not ambulatory independently, or have visual or hearing disabilities. Pets are included in the special attention category.
- Know that at least two ways out of every room. Make sure these ways open easily and are not blocked.
- Have an outside meeting place to account for everyone and a safe place to call 911. Examples are a mailbox, a fire hydrant, or a trusted neighbor's home.
- Practice the Plan during the day and during the nighttime. Practice different ways to get out.
- Teach Children how to escape on their own and not to hide because they might be frightened.
- Remember, smoke impairs breathing and vision. Smoke and hot air rise. The best air will be low to the ground. If the area is smoke filled, crawl. Prior to opening a door feel the back of the door for heat.
- Everyone must get out and stay out!
How will you be alerted to a fire, especially if you are asleep?
The answer of course is Smoke Alarms!
Smoke alarms are essential for fire safety in all homes and businesses. According to studies, 25% of installed smoke alarms do not work properly. Make sure yours are working and that you test them every month. This is done by pushing the test button. If you hear a chirping sound, change the batteries. If this does not correct the chirping call the local fire department for advice.
The two most common styles of smoke alarms are hardwired, and battery operated. The hardwired alarms are wired in sync. If one alarm goes off, all the smoke alarms in the home will go off. All homes built after 1992 are required to have hardwired smoke alarms installed during the construction phase. Battery only alarms, work independently of each other, and thus only the alarm that senses the smoke will go off.
Check manufacturer recommendations for recommended interval of replacing alarms. Hard wired smoke alarms are generally replaced every ten years.
Where should smoke alarms be placed?
- In each bedroom or sleep room on every level of the house.
- In each hallway outside each sleep room on every level of the house, including the basement. Mount high on walls not more than 12 inches from the ceiling.
- In common areas such as living room, den, or family room.
- If a home has a basement, a smoke alarm should be placed on the ceiling at the foot of the steps leading to the upper level.
- To prevent smoke alarms from going off due to smoke from cooking, install 10 feet away from cooking appliances (stove oven)
- Do not decorate your smoke alarm with paint or stickers etc... This may cause the alarm to malfunction.
- All smoke alarms regardless (hardwired or battery operated) need to be replaced according to manufacturer recommendations. This is usually after 10 years.
- For the hearing-impaired individual, alarms are available with strobe lights bed shakers to vibrate in response to sensing smoke. Additionally, alarms are available for hallways that have very bright LED lights to improve visibility in the event of a fire.
Finally, carbon monoxide detectors do not alert us to fire specifically, carbon monoxide is lethal and a byproduct of many common appliances (gas stove, clothes dryers, water heaters). Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed no more than 4 feet from the floor. You should have a detector on each floor of the home. And like smoke alarms they should be checked on a monthly basis. Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every 5 to 7 years according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Before you go to bed
A bedtime check list is useful, which may include:
- Check to make sure all flammable objects are at least 3 ft away from a heat source. Extinguish any flame such as a candle (do not assume it will safely burn out).
- Fireplace fires are out, and safety screens are in place.
- Avoid electrical overloads on wall switches and power strips.
- Keep dryer ducts, vents, and heater chimney free of debris. Make sure all smoking materials have been extinguished.
- All things used in the garage are off, unplugged. Don’t leave battery charges going or power tools running.
- Close all bedroom doors: A closed bedroom door delays fire and smoke from entering the bedroom. A wooden door may require 10 to 15 minutes to burn down. That is 10 to 15 minutes that allows can increase the success of an escape.
It is recommended to have a minimum of one fire extinguisher in each level of the home, as well as in the kitchen and laundry room and garage. Please note that this is appropriate for a small, contained fire. As mentioned, do not waste time trying to extinguish a large and/or a rapidly spreading fire- call.
Remember Stop, Drop and Roll: If your clothes are on fire STOP, cover your face with your hands and DROP. Then roll over several times. This will smother flames and help decrease the severity of burns.
“Think of fire safety before a fire starts.”