A house fire in our area recently displaced two, sending one to the hospital due to smoke inhalation. Let me start by saying that I do not have any details on the cause of this fire or the extent of the damage to the home. I want to talk about the potential causes of a person being overcome by smoke to help you prevent this should a fire occur in your home. Another thing that I will say, though I do not know what caused this fire, is that unattended cooking accounts for the greatest number of residential fires in our county, state, and nation.
Smoke inhalation can occur for several reasons. I will name a few reasons and try to offer an escape or avoidance of each. The first reason that a person may be overcome is his proximity to the fire. A person may be asleep and the fire starts close to him, or a person attempts to extinguish the fire. Fires spread rapidly, filling the spaces around the fire with noxious, toxic smoke. You cannot breathe smoke without it having an ill effect on your body, especially your lungs, heart, and brain.
We are taught that smoke extinguishers are designed to extinguish small fires, but we put ourselves in harm’s way if we attempt to fight the fire. Along these same lines of proximity, if the fire occurs in your bed or on the couch that you are laying on, due to smoking, you will be hurt by the fire and the smoke.
Any delay in your exit from your burning home can lead to smoke inhalation. One way to prevent a delay caused by being unaware of the fire is to have a proper number of properly operating smoke alarms in your home. Early detection of the fire by smoke alarms will allow you the greatest opportunity to escape uninjured.
Causes of a delay in exiting your home could be many. If you are sound asleep, then there will be a delay in your escape. Again, smoke alarms are the answer to early detection and early warning. Another cause of delay might be a person’s physical condition at the time of the fire. If a person is bedridden for whatever reason, someone else will need to get this person out of a burning home. Small children and pets will have to be helped out of a burning home as well. Incidentally, smoke normally rises and then mushrooms down, meaning that the best air is near the floor, hence the statement, “stay low and go.”
Another cause of smoke inhalation is when a person re-enters a burning home for whatever reason. We have all heard the statement “get out and stay out.” Once we have escaped from our burning home, we should not go back in for any reason. I say this knowing that if your loved one is still in that burning house, you are probably going to attempt to get to them out. This situation stresses the importance of calling 9-1-1 as quickly as possible so that firefighters can get there quickly and perform a rescue. Firefighters are trained and equipped to make rescues. The chances of us being overcome because we go back in is great. It is important to
have that practiced home escape plan where a designated meeting place outside of the home is known by each member of your family.
I want to go back to being near the fire, so close that your clothing catches on fire. If your clothing catches on fire, then you must “stop, drop, and roll.” Running will only spread the fire on your person. Protect your face with your hands while you are rolling on the ground.
A fire in your home is bad, but you or someone in your home being injured is worse. I did not talk about a residential sprinkler system in this article, but it is the best means of rapid extinguished or containment of a fire. A sprinkler system could lead to cold smoke, which could still lead to a person being overcome, but early detection leading to early warning will hopefully lead to early escape. Fire protection systems are designed to give people the opportunity to get out as soon after the fire starts as possible. Heed the warning and get out!