Planning for a safe escape
Each family member must know what to do in the event of a fire in their home. Unless a small fire can be easily controlled, it is recommended that fighting the fire be left to professional firefighters and that family members escape safely from the home.
A home escape plan must be created and practiced so that each person knows exactly what to do. It also is important to practice Exit Drills In The Home (EDITH).
Most residential fires occur between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Deaths from residential fires occur in greater numbers between midnight and 4 a.m. when most people are asleep. An average of 800 fires strike residential buildings each day in the United States. More than 6,500 persons die each year from fire – more than half of them children and senior citizens. The majority of these deaths are in home fires.
Regardless of the cause of the fire, a home may be filled with smoke. This is a very dangerous situation. Family members may be unable to see very well. The smoke and toxic gases may cause dizziness and disorientation. In the confusion, one can easily become lost or trapped in the home. Family members must understand that their safety depends upon quickly leaving the home. It has been proven that exit drills reduce chances of panic and injury in fires and that trained and informed people have a much better chance to survive fires in their home.
Bedroom doors should be closed while people are sleeping. It takes fire 10 to 15 minutes to burn through a wooden door. That’s 10 to 15 minutes more for the inhabitant to escape. Next, family members should visit each bedroom and figure out two escape routes –
- The normal exit
- The other exit through a door or a window
Plan an Escape Route
The largest loss of life in a residential fire in Phoenix occurred in 1987. A family of four was trapped inside their home and couldn’t get out because security bars were bolted on the windows. If a family feels they need the additional security, “fire safe bars” should be installed or retrofitted. An exit should not require special tools. A key is considered a special tool. The La Habra Fire Department advises that bars on windows should have a single action quick release device.
Realize the Danger of Smoke
Practice what to do if you become trapped. Since doors hold back smoke and firefighters are adept at rescue, the chances of survival are excellent. Close doors between you and the smoke. Stuff the cracks and cover vents to keep smoke out. If there’s a phone, call in your exact location to the fire department even if they are on the scene. Wait at the window and signal with a sheet or flashlight or something visible.
Establish a Safe Meeting Place
Once outside at the special meeting place, a person can be sent to the neighbor’s to call 9-1-1. If anyone is missing, give that information to the fire department immediately and tell them where the probable location of the missing person could be. Under no circumstances should anyone reenter the burning building.
Provide for Those Requiring Additional Help
When afraid, children commonly seek sheltered places such as a closet or under the bed. Encourage them to exit outside. Do not allow them to hide. Make sure children can operate the windows, descend a ladder, or lower themselves to the ground through a window. (Slide out on the stomach, feet first. Hang on with both hands. Bend the knees when landing.) Lower children to the ground before you exit from the window. They may panic and not follow if an adult goes first. Have children practice saying the fire department number, the family name, and street address into the phone.
Practice Your Fire Escape Plan
A good way to practice the effectiveness of a home fire escape plan is to position each family member in his or her bed, turn all the lights off, and activate the smoke detector by depressing the test switch. Each family member should help “awaken” the others by yelling the alert. Family members should exit their rooms according to the plan, crawl low under smoke, practice feeling doors for heat, and meet in the designated location outside the home.
Not all “homes” are single residential structures but include apartments and other types of buildings. Some additional discussion may be helpful in the home escape plan. Most high-rise or multistory apartment complexes post fire escape plans for all residents to see and follow. However, these plans seldom include escape routes for each apartment. Family members must develop and practice an evacuation plan for their individual apartment.
Exit Safely From a Structure
When exiting such a structure, do not use the elevator. Elevators are notorious for stopping at the fire floor and killing the people inside. A power failure may cause them to stop in between floors. Use the fire escape or an enclosed fire resistive stairwell to exit.
As a family, explore the building so that every exit is familiar, including those from storage, laundry and recreation rooms. If the hallways become smoke-filled as the result of a fire, memory can help in finding the exits.
Look for these important features in the building – enclosed exit stairways, clearly marked exits, clean hallways and lobbies, automatic sprinklers, fire alarm systems and smoke detectors.