The Wakefield Fire Department would like to remind the public that fire prevention week is the week of October 7-13, 2012. Fire Prevention Week is sponsored by the National Fire Prevention Association and commemorates with a fire prevention theme the Great Chicago Fire of October 8-9, 1871, which killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed 17,000 buildings. This year’s fire prevention theme is “Have 2 Ways Out”, with a focus on home fire escape planning and having two ways out of every room. If the first way out is blocked, it is important to have a backup escape route to help make sure everyone gets out safely.
In a home fire, getting out fast is the best survival strategy. Most people don’t realize just how quickly they need to respond to a fire, so they don’t take the time to plan and practice their escape. The fact is that once the smoke detector sounds, you may have only a minute or two to escape safely. Residential fires in the United States killed more than 2,640 people in 2010 and injured another 13,350. Incredibly, 85% of all fire deaths take place in single-family homes. A residential fire escape plan that includes all areas of your home must be developed and well rehearsed to reduce your family’s risk of dying in a fire. A good fire escape plan must include the following key points:
- Install and maintain smoke detectors-In order to save your life smoke detectors must be properly installed and located. A minimum of one smoke detector per level is required however additional detectors in bedrooms and extended hallways will increase their effectiveness. Detectors should be installed as a rule on the ceiling near the top and bottom of stairways as a minimum. Installing photoelectric smoke detectors in areas near kitchens and bathrooms can reduce nuisance alarms caused by cooking and steam from showers. Batteries in smoke detectors should be replaced at least annually and tested once a month by using the test button found on most models. Electric smoke detectors should be interconnected and equipped with a battery back-up in case of power outages.
- Pay attention when the alarm sounds-While this may seem an obvious statement, people have been known to ignore the very fire alarms that are designed to provide them with the escape time that they need. While there are many reasons why a fire alarm may sound accidentally, you must assume that the cause is an actual fire. Disregarding a fire alarm until obvious signs of smoke and fire are present defeats their intended purpose and can have dire consequences in the event of an actual fire.
- Get out quickly and stay out-When a fire occurs in your home, act quickly to alert your family and get them outside. Once outside, call 911 from a neighbor’s house or a cell phone if you can safely bring it with you. Remember that calling 911 from a cell phone will contact the state police, not the closest 911 center, and may cause an added delay while the local authorities are then notified. A cell phone will work, but may add to the response time.
- Make a plan that includes two ways out from every room- Look over your home and determine the fastest way out of the house from each room. Make sure to include rear and side entrances to your home, not just the front door. Closed bedroom doors must be checked high on the door with the back of your hand for signs of heat. Using the back of your hand keeps your palms and fingertips protected in case the test causes a burn to your hand. Never open a hot door. Children trapped in a bedroom should be instructed to go to their windows. Young children can wait at the window and call for help. Older children and adults can open the window and prepare to exit through them if they are low enough to do so safely (less than 10 foot drop to ground). The proper way to exit through a window is feet first, hanging from your fingertips from the bottom of the window before letting go. Rescue from higher windows may have to await the arrival of the fire department unless the room is equipped with an emergency fire escape ladder. If you own an emergency escape ladder, the family should practice using it on a first floor window so they know how to set it up correctly. Remember that security bars on windows should be equipped with a quick release device on the inside for quick egress. Avoid the use of double keyed deadbolts on entrances as they can cause a serious delay in using an exit if the key is dropped or misplaced. Occupants of apartment and high-rise buildings should never use elevators in the event of a fire and should know where the stairwells are located.
- Pick your meeting spot - Meetings spots are where the entire family will meet in the event of a fire in your home. They must be away from the home but visible from the front of the house so that the fire department can see it. Everyone must have the same meeting place or it will not serve its intended purpose, which is to let the family and emergency personnel know whether or not everyone is safe. If the family must seek shelter inside a neighbor’s home, post someone outside to notify authorities that everyone has safely exited the building. Once outside, stay outside. Many lives have been lost when well-intentioned citizens re-entered a burning building only to become trapped themselves. Only fire fighters have the training and equipment to enter a burning building with any degree of safety or success.
- Crawl low under smoke- Remember that the best air to breath in a smoke-filled building will be near the floor. Get down on your hand and knees and crawl out. Remember, Get Low and GO. If you encounter smoke with no clean air under it, go back and seek another way out. Only fire fighters can crawl through solid smoke with their air packs on. If trapped by smoke or fire, make your way to an outside room if possible and go to a window to summon aid. Your family will realize you are missing when you don’t arrive at your meeting place and will notify the fire fighters that you are trapped.
- Teach your children how to report an emergency- Your children should understand that 911 is an important phone number used to report any kind of emergency. Young children should learn their address and phone number as soon as possible in the event that they have to make the call. House numbers must be prominently displayed on the front of your home next to the entrance. Houses that are set back from the street may require a larger number or an additional number closer to the street, such as on a mailbox. Missing house numbers can cause serious delays in response time if the problem is not evident from the outside. Numbers that have been painted over or damaged should be replaced immediately. House numbers should be obstructed by decorations, hanging plants or overgrown shrubs.
- Practice your escape plan-Simply making an escape plan is not good enough. Your family must practice it. Children do fire drills at school regularly and as a result are able to exit the school quickly and efficiently whenever the alarm sounds. The same principal applies to your home. Children must recognize what your fire alarms sound like and know what to do when they hear it. Guests staying with your family overnight should be made aware of your escape plan also as they are particularly vulnerable if a fire should occur. Encourage your family to look for ways out when they are going to the movies or shopping at the mall. Escape plans are not just for home and school.
Applying the above-mentioned concepts to develop an escape plan can dramatically increase your family’s chances of surviving a fire in your home. For more information, contact Wakefield Fire Chief Michael Sullivan at 781-246-6435.