I have written to you many times about the absolute necessity of a practiced home escape plan. The plan is supposed to show two ways out of every room, a safe meeting place outside of the home, the ability of every person in the home to self-rescue (get themselves out on their own). If self-rescue is not possible, then working into the plan who and how to get them out. An adequate number of properly placed and properly operating smoke alarms is imperative to early warning of a fire in your home. Less smoke for you to deal with gives everyone a better opportunity to crawl out of your home safely and quickly. The goal of this article is to talk about the situation when family members are separated by smoke or fire. It is this time when self-rescue becomes the only way that everyone will get out safely. A point to make here is, once you get out of your home safely, do not go back in! This is much easier said than done. You are not supposed to go back in, even if your child or some other loved one is still inside. If you go back inside, you could be overcome by fire and smoke, causing two people to have to be rescued by firefighters.
Let us look at the situation where self-rescue is imperative for all building occupants. If bedrooms are upstairs and separated by a stairwell, it is important to know how fire and smoke move in a stairwell. Fire and smoke are looking to move up, then out. A stairwell serves as a chimney, with heat and fire rapidly going up it. Once smoke and fire reach the upper levels of the home, they then move laterally across the ceiling. This is why Stay Low and Go works in the beginning stages of a fire. Fire or smoke in the stairwell can cut off access to bedrooms, causing occupants to have to get themselves out of each room. A couple of questions to answer:
Can each person in the house open his or her bedroom window?
If on a second or third floor, is there a rescue ladder or will people have to hang and drop, if they must get out?
It may be possible for a person to close their bedroom door if he or she does not already sleep with the door closed. The next steps would be to turn on the bedroom light and stuff blankets or clothing under the bedroom door, preventing smoke or fire from getting into the room. This is necessary if the way out of a room is blocked by fire, heat, or smoke. The best place to be is on the outside of a dwelling that is on fire, but you must get out in a way that causes the least injury. The problem is that impending fire or heat cause people to do drastic things, like dive out of a window. This is something that needs to be discussed and figured out before the fire. The second question deals with the presence of and the access to a rescue ladder. Is one rescue ladder adequate to protect your entire family, or do you need multiple ones? The next most important thing concerning rescue ladders is knowing how to deploy them and climb down them. I have always taught you to practice deployment out of the windows where the ladder will be kept. Once one is deployed, you can go outside and climb up the ladder, to know how that feels. To climb down the ladder deploy it from a first floor window, climb out onto the ladder, and climb down to the ground. If hang and drop is the only alternative, do not practice it. If you must escape this way, you hang from the windowsill and drop to the ground. The chance of some type of injury in this case is much greater, but better than the alternative.
Even in a home that only has one floor, the chances of being separated is still possible. If you always take for granted that your one plan addresses all scenarios, your plan will be destined for failure. The many possibilities should be talked about with your entire family, long before a fire ever occurs. The following is not my statement, but it has been said: a failure to plan is a plan to fail. COVID-19 has shown many that you cannot plan in the midst of a crisis; the planning had to take place long before the crisis occurred. The problem with a fire in the home is that most people say, “It will never happen to me or my family.” This is the most deadly thought or statement surrounding this issue. I have stood with people as a firefighter and as a fire department chaplain, as they look at their home/world going up in smoke, and a loved one having to be found and removed from the building. I want to do or say whatever it takes to keep you and your family out of this situation.
The intent of this article was to talk about preparing your family to be able to rescue themselves from a fire, due to the fact that fire or smoke has separated you from one another. There are some that are either going to have to be helped by family or rescued by firefighters. Those needing assistance are babies, the elderly, those with medical problems or those with certain handicaps. You must do everything necessary to give everyone in your home the greatest opportunity for escape. You remember the old westerns, where the poster said, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” well, I want ALIVE, but if you do not prepare yourself and your family, and a fire rips through your home, the result could be DEAD. Think about it.