Last week, a person in the county died in an early morning house fire. I have not seen the findings of the investigation, but I wanted to talk about three things that contribute to or lead to a fire fatality. One of the many purposes of the fire service is to prevent fires from occurring. Since fires are nearly impossible to prevent, then great emphasis is placed on preventing the loss of life. When loss of life occurs, due to fire, we need to talk about it.
Smoke alarms are the early warning devices that wake us up or simply let us know that there is smoke or fire in our houses, apartments or mobile homes. The lack of an adequate number of smoke alarms or presence of smoke alarms that have been disabled prevent the early warning that is necessary to allow escape. Smoke alarms are inexpensive, but even if you cannot afford them, most fire departments have a smoke alarm program, where they provide smoke alarms and will install them as well. You have read this from me before: there needs to be at least one smoke alarm per level of your home. If you live in a rancher, you need at least one smoke alarm that leads to the bedrooms. The best coverage is to have a smoke alarm on every level, one near the living area, one outside of every bedroom and one in every bedroom. There are also smoke alarms for the hearing impaired. This is too easy of a fix not to take care of it. Without early warning, fire fatalities will occur.
Incapacitation prevents a person from being able to escape from a fire. For the sake of this article, I will define incapacitation as anything that prevents a person from being able to self-rescue. There are many things that fall into this category and each family needs to address and overcome them. There are some situations that are nearly impossible to overcome, but you still need to discuss them. If the challenge that prevents people from getting out of their home cannot be overcome, then you must do everything possible to prevent a fire in that home. Firefighters need to know, on their arrival if not prior to a fire event, that a challenge exists. Incapacitation that cannot be overcome can lead to a fire fatality.
The third area that I will talk about is the person that finds himself near the fire. This may be because the fire starts on his person, on the chair, couch or bed that he is in, or because he attempts to fight the fire. Whatever causes a person’s clothes to catch on fire, he must take the correct action immediately. “Stop, drop and roll” is that corrective action. Many smokers have fallen asleep, while smoking, and the chair, couch or bed that each was in caught fire. Attempting to extinguish a fire could lead to burns that injure or kill people. The smoke from a fire will fill a space, much quicker than the actual fire itself. Smoke incapacitates us, preventing us from being able to self-rescue. As I have said many times before, when fires occur in our homes, apartments or mobile homes, our job is to get out and stay out! When the fire is too close to us, fire fatalities can occur.
It may be one thing or a combination of things that lead to a fire fatality. Preventing a fire is the best means of never being faced with the issues that could cause our deaths in a fire. We must have a practiced home escape plan. Where issues or challenges exist, then one must work to address them. One fire fatality is one fire fatality too many.