House Fire Safety
The majority of homes built in our area use combustible construction. Admittedly, fire is an unlikely occurrence, but many people die every year in fires in homes where this possibility was the furthest thing from their minds. The larger or more complex a home is, the greater the risk to life safety during a fire. Tests at the National Institute for Standards and Technology demonstrate a fire started by a match, igniting newspaper on a couch, will go to flashover in only four minutes. Flashover is when every combustible in the room bursts into flame leaving no chance or survivability for victims in the vicinity. Firefighters in a flashover can only survive for a few seconds with their fire-wear and respiratory protection.
Fires and smoke shown in movies and on TV are meant to be entertaining, not realistic! In real fires you usually can see nothing. Your home is a storehouse for contents and belongings, items which are basically solidified toxic and flammable gases waiting to be released by fire. Fires generate dense quantities of black smoke and toxic gases that disrupt judgment and cause collapse. Be sure your children understand that they must get out immediately and stay out. Children are, tragically, often found dead in their favorite hiding places.
Your home is your refuge. Nobody ever expects a home fire and statistically your home probably will not have a fire. However, if it does, be prepared to act decisively if you hope to escape the deadly environment.
Don't be fooled by Hollywood Smoke . . .
. . . real smoke is dense, dark, and suffocating.
Basic Safety Suggestions
- Install smoke detectors in all spaces, including bedroom walk-in closets and hidden spaces, such as attics. You can have a raging fire in the attic and other voids, and not know about it until a neighbor calls the Fire Department. All detectors should be wired, so that all will sound if any one detector operates. The detectors should have battery back-up. A fire might disable the electrical system.
- Have regular home fire drills, particularly when guests are present. In a fire people panic and revert to what they have practiced or trained. College students who hide or avoid evacuation during drills may die in a real fire they think is only a drill. A fire in your home is a terrifying experience. Hold drills before morning wake-up time, to practice reacting properly when awakened from sleep. Have an agreed point where all will meet. People have died going back into burning buildings to "save" someone already out or a pet. Never go back in - you will most likely die! Forget the movie heroics.
- Keep a cell phone at hand or in a car. Get out. Stay Out. Call 9-1-1 form the outside. A building on fire is an incredibly dangerous environment. If you have anything worth risking your life for, keep it in a bank vault.
- Consider installing automatic sprinkler protection. Residential sprinkler systems are intended to extinguish incipient fires and/or prevent flashover of a contents fire allowing you time to escape. They are not installed in the many hidden voids in the structure, so other fire safety practices are still important. In existing homes the cost of sprinklers can be very high, because of the perceived necessity of having to hide all the piping within the walls. If the piping is left exposed, however, the cost is far less. You can paint the pipes (but never the sprinklers heads themselves) to match your decor.
Easily Preventable, yet Common Fires
- Smoking in bed, or when sleepy .
Numerous fires start when individuals, possibly under the influence of liquor or drugs, fall asleep in a bed, chair or couch, while smoking. Don't do it!
- Leaving a burning candle unattended .
Do not go to bed with candles burning, even outside on the deck. Groups of candles can generate very high heat. Never permit candles in bedrooms.
- Not having electric lanterns and flashlights if power fails .
Keep one at each person's bedside. Try crawling out of your bedroom to an exit while blindfolded. The usual landmarks are not visible from the floor level and you will be confused even in light smoke. You may think you know your own house, but in smoke you won't . . .
- Using grills near the house .
Do not use the garage for shelter while grilling. Be sure gas connections are tight. Check for leaks with soap bubbles, not a match. Place ashes in an old-fashioned metal garbage can. Put on the lid, and move the can away from the house. Never bring the grill into the house. Never "perk up" a failing fire with a spray from the can of lighter fluid. The can may explode causing horrible burns.
- Using or storing gasoline inside a home .
The pilot flame on gas appliances (water heater) can ignite gasoline vapors, causing terrible injuries and death. Fill gasoline powered equipment outside. Store gasoline in approved containers outside!
- Leaving cooking appliances unattended when using cooking oil .
Shut off the burner before you go to the door for any reason. You may be delayed in getting back only to find a raging fire.
- Ignoring near lightning strikes .
If a lightning strike seems close, check your attic for smoke and a possible fire.
Working with your Fire Department
- If you smell smoke or gas, clear the building and call 9-1-1. Do not waste time looking for the source of the problem, fire can be burning in a hidden void. We will find the problem and deal with it, you do not have the tools or the training.
- When we arrive, we will determine the location of the fire if it is not known. If the fire is burning in a room's contents and has not extended to the building's structure, we will extinguish it. This may involve opening the roof or breaking windows to vent the heat and smoke and to speed extinguishment. If a fire is burning in a hidden portion of a structure, this involves the building's combustible frame or "gravity resistance system". Such fires are infinitely more dangerous than a fire in contents only and cannot always be extinguished quickly.
- A search for a missing victim in a house, in solid smoke-created darkness, has only a slight chance of being successful. In fact, the risk-benefit analysis the incident commander must make might well indicate that the risk of losing firefighter's lives is greater than the chance of successfully finding the missing person alive. Larger or more complex homes increase this peril. Your best chances for survival always lies in getting yourself out early and staying out.
- If it is determined that an imminent collapse or flashover (all contents and surfaces ignite simultaneously) potential exists, all firefighters will be ordered to evacuate the building, and firefighting operations must be carried on from safer outside positions. We cannot save every structure and will not put ourselves in undue danger for severely compromised structures.