A fire in the home can be one of the most terrifying situations you will ever have to face. While most fires are perfectly preventable, there are still hundreds of thousands of structure fires each year in the U.S. The majority of these fires are relatively minor, but in 2011 alone, there were 2,520 recorded deaths from these fires, and over 13,000 injuries.
Because of such statistics, many people take basic safety precautions such as installing and maintaining smoke detectors throughout the home, buying fire extinguishers, and following some basic fire safety rules when using candles, fireplaces, or stoves. For many small fires, an extinguisher can put out the flame before it spreads. However, you should not relax just because a flame has gone out, you should keep an eye on the area to determine that the fire is truly spent and will not re-light.
Sometimes, despite every precaution and use of good fire safety practices, a fire can happen in your home. Imagine that you’re lying down in bed at 3:22 a.m., and you wake up to the smell of smoke. There is a fire somewhere in your home, but you don’t know exactly where. What do you do?
Here is a list of some basic things you can do during a house fire that will greatly increase your odds of survival:
Be prepared – The first, and most important thing you can do in case of a house fire is to be ready before the blaze begins. Having smoke detectors in your home to give you an early warning in case of a fire can mean the difference between being alerted in time to escape, and being trapped in your bed as your home burns to ashes around you.
Another important way that you can be prepared is to know the layout of your home and have an evacuation plan for each part of the house or apartment. This means knowing where the fire escapes and staircases are located in your high-rise apartment building, or the different paths to the nearest window or exit in one-story buildings.
Check doors before opening them – One of the most common mistakes people make when attempting to flee from an out-of-control blaze is that they will open doors that lead to even more severe blazes. You can minimize your risk of stumbling into a second blaze on the other side of the door by checking doors before opening them. Some advice from the kidshealth.org website can prove to be very effective, as they teach readers to check for heat or smoke coming through the cracks in the door, feel the door to see if it’s hot, and check the doorknob for a high temperature last. If smoke is pouring in through the cracks in the door, or the door and its handle are hot to the touch, then there is a fire on the other side of the door and it should not be opened.
Stay low – Many city and county fire safety websites admonish their visitors to remember that smoke inhalation can be deadly. Everyone knows that catching fire is bad for their health, but many forget about how inhaling smoke can damage their lungs and even cause them to suffocate. If, during the fire, you come across an area with thick smoke, you can reduce your exposure by staying low to the ground, below the smoke cloud. While crawling through areas that are thick with smoke will never be safe, you can cut down your risk of injury or death by staying low and covering your mouth and nose in smoke-filled rooms and passages.
Don’t waste time – If, at the start of a fire, you have a clear path to an exit, take it. If you can, alert other people in your home and lead them to an exit, but never stop to save replaceable possessions. Taking time to salvage property from a fire is one of the biggest reasons why people become trapped in a burning building when they could have otherwise escaped.
Sometimes, people have been known to run back inside a burning building to save a precious family heirloom or other valuable item. In one example shared by Fire Battalion Chief Jennifer Utz, “a family reported a house fire, and when we arrived we found a man with black soot on his face. He needed medical evaluation for smoke inhalation… he said he had been trying to retrieve a high school ring… this person was lucky: His search for a replaceable object could have cost him his life.” Which is why she listed “going back into a fire to retrieve lost possessions” as one of the top mistakes people make during a fire.
Instead of wasting time and risking your life to retrieve a possession, escape the home first, then call the fire department to put out the flames and hopefully retrieve your possessions intact. The sooner the fire department can arrive at the scene of the fire, the sooner they can extinguish the blaze, and the less damage there will be done to your property.
Don’t panic – If you become trapped within a burning building, do your best to stay calm and assess the situation. It may be hard to keep your cool when a fire is consuming your home, but try not to panic. This is especially difficult if your hair or clothing catches fire. Should that happen, remember to stop, drop, and roll to smother flames on your clothes, and to wrap your hair with clothing if it catches fire.
If you are trapped in a room with a window, see if you can make your escape that way. If you are reasonably certain that you can safely escape through the window, make the attempt. If not, then make sure that the door is shut, and stuff the doorframe and the gap between the door and the floor with clothing, towels, and sheets to prevent smoke from infiltrating the room. Stand at the window and wave your arms so that fire rescue crews can see your location. Doing so will greatly increase your chances of being successfully rescued.
Remember that the most important thing during a fire in your home is the safety of yourself and your family. Things, possessions, can be replaced, people cannot. Keep yourself and your family safe during a fire.
If you would like further fire safety advice, or need help with restoring your home from a fire, please contact Accutech Restoration right away. Be ready for the blaze and its aftermath with our expert assistance.