House Fires Burn Faster Today. Here's How To Survive.
Most Americans (about four out of five) think they have 5-10 minutes to get out of the house if it’s on fire. That’s wrong and being wrong could cost a life.
On November 21, the Washington Post ran an article by Elisabeth Leamy about why house fires tend to burn faster these days and how you can best survive. Ms. Leamy said Underwriters Laboratories tests show that when your house is on fire you may not survive unless you get out in three minutes or less.
“Most people underestimate the speed and power of fire and smoke,” according to the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA says not to fumble with the fire extinguisher or grab your photo albums or even rescue your cat.
First and foremost, get out immediately. Underwriters Laboratories says that 30 years ago, you had up to 17 minutes to escape a house fire, but today’s homes and the furniture inside them burn faster. Why? Open floor plans provide oxygen and don’t provide barriers. Synthetic building materials and furnishings burn at a much faster rate than the natural products homes were built of decades ago. UL videotaped a dramatic side-by-side experiment that showed how rapidly a modern living room went up in flames compared with a vintage one. The backing of a modern carpet is synthetic, the drapes are synthetic, the couch, the pillows are synthetic and they all burn hotter and faster.
Survive By Planning Ahead
So how do you survive? You and your family should have a home escape plan. Draw a map of your home showing all the doors and windows. Know at least two ways out of every room. Make sure all the doors and windows leading outside open easily. And discuss your plan with everyone in your home. The stakes are high. Residential fires kill more people than any other kind, according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration. In fact, roughly seven Americans die every day in house fires. Some of those people die because they try to fight the fire themselves. Fire extinguishers are wonderful tools, but only if you know how to use them. FEMA says you should only use a fire extinguisher if:
• You are trained in how to use the extinguisher.
• You can put out the fire in five seconds or less.
• The fire is small and contained — like in a wastebasket.
• There is no flammable debris or hazardous material nearby.
• You have the right type of extinguisher for the type of fire.
• There are two ways to exit the area quickly if you fail. In the Washington Post article Montgomery County, Maryland fire investigator Donny Boyd said that fires double in size every minute. You may think you can manage a fire, but Boyd has seen people perish in the heat and gases, trying to fight the fire themselves. And fighting the fire may delay your call to 911, making your situation worse. Focus on surviving the fire, not putting it out. Other ways to increase your chance of surviving a home fire include:
Interconnect Your Smoke Detectors
Have working smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of your home. Have them wirelessly connected to one another, so that if there’s a fire in your basement, for example, the alarm in your bedroom will go off.
Hold Fire Drills
Practice your evacuation plan so that everyone in the family not only knows how to get out, but also reverts to the plan instead of panicking during a fire.
Make Sure Your House Can Be Easily Found
Drive past your house at night and see if your street address is clearly visible from the street so emergency crews can find you. If not, install better numbers or lighting.
Close Doors While You Sleep
Fires that break out while you are sleeping can be particularly devastating. Closing your door keeps smoke out and temperatures down, giving you precious extra minutes to evacuate.
Teach Your Children
Teach everyone in your house how to escape on their own in case you can’t help them.
Have A Safe Meeting Place
Everyone in the family should know a location within easy walking distance — but out of fire range — where you will meet if you evacuate separately in a fire.
If you’re stuck in a room during a fire, close the doors and windows. Put wet fabric over openings where smoke can get in. This will buy you extra time to call 911 or escape.
Travel Away From The Fire Safely
When you move toward an exit stay low. Either bend way down or crawl. Smoke rises and kills more people than the fire itself. The best air is low to the ground. Before you open a door look for smoke and feel the door for heat. If the door is hot or smoke is coming under it there’s fire on the other side and you need to find another exit. Close doors and windows behind you to reduce the amount of oxygen the fire can use for fuel. If you exit through a window crawl out backwards and lower yourself so your feet are as close to the ground as possible.
Don’t Go Back In
No matter what — or who — don’t go back in. Instead, alert firefighters so they can rescue people trapped inside.
Disaster Preparation Information
Every month on the SERVPRO of Manchester/Mansfield blog we publish educational articles on how to prevent natural disasters and deal with them quickly and effectively should they occur. Here are a few you might find helpful:
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