I have written many times about your need to have a practiced home escape plan. This article will address other exits for when the primary exit is blocked. We all want to use a doorway to enter and exit our home and we even have a particular door that we want to use. The point of this article will be to consider all exit points as viable ways of getting out of your house in a fire. Because it is Christmas, many people have added a larger fuel load, in the way of live trees and packages. We have also added more heat sources, due to electrical lighting. Depending on where these things are, in relation to exits will determine what exits can or cannot be used because the fire would be too close. For the sake of common terminology, I will define secondary exits as those exits that would not normally be used, whether it is a door or a window. Let’s start with doorways. As a firefighter and as a person that helped install doors for a season, I have seen many doors that cannot be opened by most adults, much less a child. If a door leads to the outside, then it needs to work properly. Until a door is repaired, it should not be part of an escape plan. Wasting time at a door that will not open could trap a person inside. In many cases, people who die in house fires die in the vicinity of a door or window. For whatever reason, whether they are overcome by smoke, heat, or flames, or the deadbolt locks are key-locked and they cannot find the key, something keeps them from getting out. Ensuring that all of the doors that lead to the outside can be easily opened will help you and your family get out and stay out in the event of your house being on fire.
What if you live in a two-story home or a rancher and cannot get to any outside door? The only alternative may be to escape through a window; this is easier said than done. If you own a two-story home and do not have a rescue ladder, then you need to buy your family one, two or as many as you need before Christmas. Once you buy a ladder, take it out of the box, see how it attaches to the windowsill, attach it to a first-floor window, and have everyone that is going to use it, to climb out of the window, onto the rescue ladder. Once you have accomplished this, hang it out of the window of which it will be used, then go outside and climb from the ground up to see how it will feel. If you do not practice with a rescue ladder before a fire, then you will not use it during a fire. If you have to leave from an upstairs window, then you must close the bedroom door. The fire will want to come to any opening unless the airflow is cut off.
If you do not own a rescue ladder and a fire forces you or your family members to escape out of an upstairs window, then you will have to hang from the windowsill and drop to the ground, or a porch roof. Hanging and dropping is probably going to result in some type of injury, but it is better than the alternative. Conditions may be that you are able to stay in your room instead of hanging and dropping. If this is the decision, then you must close your door and stuff a blanket, towel, or clothing under the doorway. You need to turn the light on. You then need to open your window, removing the screen if necessary. If you have storm windows, then you will need to open or break it. You will want to wave something to get the attention of neighbors, other family, or arriving firefighters.
Whether primary or secondary exits must be used, it demands practice. Do not practice hang and drop! You will need to practice getting out of a first-floor window. Just as all doors need to open properly, so do all windows. If a window cannot be opened, then it must be broken out and the opening cleared. Remaining, jagged glass will cause more significant injuries. People do not go to bed expecting their house to catch fire, but a practiced plan exponentially your chances surviving the event. Before I end, I must say that properly located and operating smoke alarms will give your family the time that they may need to get out and stay out in the event of a fire in your home.