I watched a news report this morning about a rapidly progressing fire in a dance studio in New Jersey. Thankfully, no one lost their life, but some of the building occupants had to escape from a second-floor balcony. A rapidly advancing fire will cause people to jump from the second floor or the 80th floor. The fire in New Jersey was reported to have started on the first floor. There are many things that I do not know about the building, like layout, the presence or absence of smoke alarms, a fire alarm system or a sprinkler system. Let me talk about the latter three for a moment. Smoke alarms give an early warning of smoke or fire. A fire alarm system can notify all the building’s occupants and an alarm monitoring company, which then notifies the appropriate fire department. A sprinkler system is designed to either keep a fire in check or extinguish a fire, allowing occupants more time for escape.
In the New Jersey incident, the fire forced people out of the building. What would you do in this situation? When you find yourself in a burning building, you must get out if you can do so and stay out. If you become trapped, then you must take actions that will keep the fire and smoke from you as long as possible. Let’s step back a moment. Have you given any thought to a fire occurring in the buildings that you go into? I would say no for the most part. Most people are not prepared for a fire to occur anywhere except a fireplace or wood stove. A fire will catch most people off guard.
Here is a scenario. You are upstairs in a building, and a fire starts downstairs. By whatever means, you realize that there is a fire and you cannot escape using the first floor. You must first get to a room where you can turn on the light, shut the door and stuff something under it to prevent smoke from coming in. If there is a window, then you may need to open or break it. Keep in mind that openings will draw the fire to that point. You will need to get people’s attention. You may need to wave something out of the window or throw something out. If the fire or smoke causes the room to be untenable, then you may have to hang and drop. Jumping from any window could lead to a person’s death from the fall, even from a second-floor window. The decision to be made is: Can I hang from this window sill and drop to the ground without losing my life from the fall? You are going to be injured, but it is better than the alternative. If you are too high up in a building, then you will have to wait on firefighters to get you out. The point is you have got to have some type of plan.
Fires occur every day, with the number one location being the kitchen. If fire races through your home blocking your primary or secondary exit, what will you do? If you practice something, there is a chance that you will respond that way when a fire occurs. Do not practice hang and drop. Your home will look different when it is full of smoke and fire. When is the last time that you saw, much less practiced with, that rescue ladder that you bought? Again, what you practice, you may be able to repeat. On the flipside, what you do not practice, you will not do in an emergency. I leave you with this: when you practice your home escape plan it becomes a practiced home escape plan. Your life or the lives of your family members may depend on that practiced plan.