October 7-13, 2012 is recognized as Fire Prevention Week across America. This week is chosen in remembrance of the Great Chicago Fire that started on October 8, 1871 and was not brought under control until October 10, 1871. This fire resulted in a catastrophic loss of life and property. Contributing factors to the rapid fire spread was the heavy use of wood in building construction, drought conditions and high winds. A fire of this magnitude constitutes what the fire service defines as a conflagration. One goal of the fire service has since been to prevent fires through improved fire prevention codes and fire safety education.
Each year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides a theme for the year’s Fire Prevention Week, and a weeklong emphasis is placed on this subject specifically, but fire safety awareness is the overall desire. This year’s theme is “Have Two Ways Out.” In other words, in most cases there should be two ways out of every room. This is part of having a practiced home escape plan, though this can be used in every place that you go. Rooms are normally entered and exited through doorways, but what if that doorway is blocked by fire or smoke- what then? Your window may be the secondary means of escape. The problem is that using a window to exit is much easier said than done.
Let’s talk about windows for a moment. First of all, will your windows open easily, or do they have to be banged on to move? If they are difficult to open now, it will be even harder when you are in a hurry. Multiply this by the fact that it may be your children that have to use that window. It may be a part of your home escape plan to always help your children, in the event of a fire. What if the fire blocks your access to them? Your children must be taught, just as they are taught in school. The exception to this would be a very young child or a special needs child. In these cases, you would have to practice different ways to get everyone out, based upon different scenarios.
What if your bedrooms are on the second floor or above? The fire service teaches that if you must exit via a window that is second floor or higher and there is no rescue ladder, then you must hang and drop. You know what is below your windows, and the fact that this will probably hurt. A rescue ladder is recommended for upstairs bedrooms. If you only have one, does everyone know where it is located? Have you ever taken it out of the box? Have you practice deploying it? The way to practice climbing it is from the ground up.
If you want to practice an escape, use a first floor window.
Whatever the secondary means of escape is from a room depends on the layout or use of the room. The key to being prepared is practice, practice, and practice. Properly located and operating smoke alarms are the best means of knowing that there is a fire in your home. Fires occur when you least expect them. Most fire fatalities and injuries occur at night, when everyone is sleeping. Your family must be prepared, even if they have just been awoken from a deep sleep; they may only have one chance to get it right.