I have just finished reading the news reports of a fire that occurred in Roanoke County, back in mid-March. The fire occurred in the middle of the night. Four adults and four children occupied the home. Two of the adults and two of the children were visiting from out of town. The end result was that six people escaped, while two of the children perished. The six that survived were transported to the hospital and one adult female was recently released, after suffering major burns. I could not find where investigators had determined a cause, other than accidental, and I also did not read anything about working smoke alarms.
This fire falls into a common category, where fire fatalities are most likely. As stated, this fire occurred while everyone was sleeping. Properly operating smoke alarms in the right locations would have given all of the occupants early warning. I do not know if the home was protected by smoke alarms, so I will not assume anything. I will say that one occupant of the home described waking up to the chaos of the home heavily charged with smoke, as well as heavy fire. The occupants attempted to rescue the children, but were only successful in rescuing two of them. I was told the other day that I must continue to preach the importance of properly operating and properly placed smoke alarms. New construction that falls under newer building codes has successfully addressed this issue. The problem is that older constructed homes do not fall under the same mandate, In other words, the number of smoke alarms is suggested, rather than mandated.
Few, if any, go to bed at night, expecting their home to catch fire. Two young families, one that was more familiar with the home because they lived there, while the other family was visiting. Again, I do not know, but I doubt that there was a discussion, prior to going to bed, of what everyone would do if a fire occurred. Was there a practiced exit plan in place? Were there any escape ladders? Had they been taken out of the box and practiced with? You have heard me talk about the effectiveness of fire drills in schools. Why would we not do fire drills in our homes? A major difference in the school fire drill and one in our home is that we need to take into account fires that occur while people are sleeping. Will everyone wake up when the smoke alarms activate? The only way to know is by testing them at night, when everyone is asleep. Once the detector activates and wakes everyone, what actions must be taken to get out of the home, safely and quickly?
Let me try to walk through a scenario. Your family is asleep when smoke alarms begin to activate or sound. Everyone needs to roll out of bed, stay near the floor, crawl to the closed doorway. Turn on the light and check the door with the back of your hand. If the door is hot, do not open it. Stuff blankets under the door and then proceed to the window. Open the window, removing everything. If you need to escape from that window, then you must use a rescue ladder or hang and drop. If unable to do these things, then you must await help. If, on the other hand, the door was cool to the touch, open it and check conditions in the hallway. If the smoke is heavy, close the door. If you can crawl under the smoke, then you have to determine if you can get out. Remember, if the fire is downstairs and you have to use the stairwell, it will be like entering a chimney. The heat and smoke will rise and mushroom from the point of origin. If you can crawl out of your home, then do so.
The best opportunity to get out is if you have smoke alarms that alert you in the early stages of the fire. If you think that this is complicated, then you must practice, before the fire ever occurs. Figuring things out, for the first time, when your house is on fire usually does not end with a good result.
We must learn from fires that have occurred. We know that fire can strike everything from a mobile home to a 5,000 square foot dwelling. Wherever you live, you must consider fire safety and how you will escape, if a fire occurs. Fires at night, when everyone is sleeping, lead to a greater chance for injury or death. The more prepared your family is, the better their chance of survival will be.