I am going to attempt to use information from three fires to glean learning points that will hopefully prepare you, in the event of a future fire. The fires that I will use are as follows: the wind-driven fire in Corolla, NC, that destroyed three buildings; a single-family dwelling fire in eastern Henrico that claimed the life of one and critically injured another and an Indiana house fire, where the homeowners were trapped because they could not escape through the narrow windows in their home. I could write an article on each of these fires, but my hope is to drive home some life-saving points.
If you saw the news recently from the Outer Banks, then you saw a fire that started in a beach center extended to two additional houses to the north because of high winds. Fires can start in your home or on someone else’s property and extend to yours. Seeing wind-driven fire is one way that fires extend rapidly. Fires can also extend from property to property because of the close proximity of homes, tas well as building construction. The three buildings in Corolla were destroyed relatively fast, which required rapid egress from any occupants.
The house fire in eastern Henrico was reported to have had no working smoke alarms. The occupants of the home had to be rescued by firefighters. Smoke alarms are the early warning devices, designed to activate when smoke contacts the detector. There are detectors that work on a rate of rise in the temperature at the detector, but the large majority of smoke alarms are ionization detectors. A lack of smoke alarms prevents occupants from any early warning, which, unless the fire starts in the occupant’s vicinity, could allow for smoke to increase and the fire to grow. There is no excuse, in this day and age, for any home to not be protected by at least one working smoke alarm and if necessary, several. Smoke alarms allow occupants to self-rescue.
The third incident was an Indiana house fire in which the occupants were trapped inside for 38 minutes. The two occupants could not get out of the house via exit doors because the fire and smoke had blocked their egress. The home had tall thin windows that prevented escape. The occupants did wet some towels and stuff them under the door to the room that they were in, preventing or slowing the smoke from entering the room. Occupants were talking to a 911 operator from inside the home via a landline or cell phone. Firefighters were able to rescue these occupants by breaching or opening the wall to the room that they were in.
Practiced home escape plans, in conjunction with an adequate amount of properly placed and operating smoke alarms and a residential sprinkler system, allow for the best opportunity to escape from a burning building. Each one of the components of this equation must be looked upon as vital to survival. You have to be able to overcome the many myths concerning residential sprinkler systems. The two purposes of a sprinkler system are to either to extinguish the fire or keep the fire in check, allowing all occupants to escape. I do not think I need to say anything more about the necessity of smoke alarms.
The practiced home escape plan must take every scenario into account, from the normal escape to the abnormal escape. Keep in mind: a building that you are familiar with becomes unfamiliar when filled with smoke and fire. Escaping via a window is difficult at best, even without a fire. One other thing to remember is that any opening becomes the path that fire and smoke will come to quickly. I leave you with this: your job is to get out and stay out, meeting your family at the designated meeting place.