No doubt many of you read about the tragic incident in Stamford, Connecticut, early on Christmas morning, when three young children and their grandparents were killed attempting to escape from their fiery home.
An all too familiar fact: they did not die in bed–they were on the move and killed as they attempted to escape. Would you or your family fare better?
Below are ten suggestions to improve your chances.
To the surprise of some, a properly operating smoke/fire detector may give you as little as two minutes to exit your home safely in the event of an actual fire. You need to talk NOW about what you will do if fire occurs, especially if you need to see to the safety of children or others.
If you have only yourself to worry about, you can be less precise in your movements, but not much.
If you are responsible for the safety of others, you MUST have a plan established:
If it is 3AM and you are waking out of a sound sleep, reacting to smoke or fire, and you decide to throw on jeans and a shirt and grab a cell phone, you have probably used 60 seconds, so you have a minute to go and you are still in your bedroom.
Clothing is optional. If dressing, it should be what is immediately at hand. This is not the time to be in the closet poking about.
The only thing you might need is a cell phone–nothing else matters.
***As soon as possible, train people to sleep with their doors closed.
It buys precious time.***
When the alarm sounds, young children and others needing help should stay in their rooms, unless you direct otherwise. When practical, they should be taught how, when and why to raise a window in an emergency and to call 911. (They need to have their address memorized and how to explain to a person where they are located in the house: “I am at a third floor window in the back of the house.”)
You need to make sure YOU can raise the window in any room that you or others may need to escape from. Do you, or they, need a chair or other lift to raise the window?
A note on double-hung windows: if you are awaiting rescue, pull the top sash down about 1/3 to release smoke and heat above you. Push up the bottom sash enough so that you can obtain fresh air and exit easily.
Ready To Go?
If you are ready to go, feel the door and the door knob. Let’s assume it is cool or warm (not hot) and when you open it onto the hallway there is enough smoke that you instinctively duck to see under it and to breathe. Your eyes are stinging and you start to cough. You may be able to see or hear the fire burning. Stay low where the breathable air is, move quickly, but pay close attention to what you are seeing because you have a very important decision to make and mere seconds in which to do it. (Expect visibility to be almost zero, even with a small fire. Most furnishings produce huge amounts of black smoke when burning.)
You may be unable to physically reach the folks you are responsible for if the fire is blocking your way. If that is the case, give them clear verbal direction. With their doors closed and the knowledge of how to open a window, call 911 and report their location–you have given them valuable tools–and time.
If you are above the first floor and have to go down open stairs, or if you are on the same floor and the fire is between you and the exit, you have a key decision to make: take the normal route (stairs) or exercise another option. The other option will most often be out a window. You need to know that other option NOW for yourself and for each person you need to assist or look after. If the fire is on the floor below, on the stairs or between you and the stairs, the decision is probably made–it’s the window.
If you decide to use the stairs to exit, remember that you are banking on getting to the folks you need to help, traveling to and going down the stairs, getting to the door, unlocking it, and making your way outside. It may sound doable now, but try it when you can neither breathe nor see, and you are trying to help someone else who may be panicky. Instinct will probably be to take the normal way out. But, instinct can be deadly.
If there are two adults responsible for people in two or more sleeping rooms, possibly on other floors, your planning just became even more crucial (and complicated.) Such a moment is hardly the time to be discussing who will help which person in need. That should have been decided well in advance. Make your way, if you can, to the room of the person you are responsible for helping. As you do so, you need to be making your exit decision based on what you see, feel and hear around you. After you reach them, do you try the stairs or go for the window or other exit option, if there is one? Remember: going towards the fire or smoke is a high risk option especially if you can place a door between you and the fire and open a window to the outside.
As soon as you can, call 911. They need to know at least three things: building fire, address, people inside. (They would like to know more, but I personally would not get caught up in a lengthy conversation if I had things to do.) A quick word here about fire department operations. As they arrive, they prioritize their actions, chief of which is to look for rescues that have to be made, so if you can get to where they can see you, there is a very high probability they will take it from there.
Too Hot to Touch
Now, let’s talk about the other option: that door or knob is too hot to touch. You are trapped in your room and you have others in the house you are responsible for. You must see to your own safety by getting to a window and by calling the fire department as soon as possible. The most important thing you can probably do is to give responding firefighters specific and detailed information about those unaccounted for.
This scenario is where training folks to open a window and to remain there or exit is important. If they exit, they MUST go to the established meeting place in order to be accounted for.
Part of your planning must be to identify a place outside the home where everyone will meet so that you can account for those missing and provide that information to the fire department. Once outside, DO NOT reenter.
Practise these scenarios at least twice a year. If it seems silly, don’t be fooled, it’s deadly serious. Talking about fire safety now and planning in advance is essential.
Time: Use It Wisely
The bottom line: If the scenarios above don’t fit for you, you still need to talk this over and plan it out–you need to be ready to assess risks and make decisions when lives are in the balance.
In the Stamford fire the adult male who died was a safety professional and had spent a lifetime in fire prevention. Again, everyone was in the act of escaping, they simply did not have enough time or use that time effectively.
Take the time NOW to plan what you will do if the worst ever happens–and if it does:
Make Every Second Count
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