There are many strategies you can use to prevent the outbreak of a fire, but there’s always a chance that one could begin. If you find yourself in the middle of a burning building, it’s important to know the habits and actions that can keep you safe and maximize your chances of surviving.
So how do you stay safe during a fire?
If you can avoid fires entirely, you should. That’s why it’s important to take proactive measures, so you can minimize your chances of ever being involved in one.
· Install and test smoke alarms. One of your best lines of defense is going to be your smoke alarms. These protective devices will automatically broadcast a siren if they detect significant quantities of smoke, indicating a fire. Make sure you have one installed on every floor of your house and near every bedroom. It’s also important to test them for functionality regularly and change the batteries if and when required.
· Invest in fire suppression. Fire suppression systems can also help you control the spread of a fire or, in some situations, eliminate the fire entirely. A simple fire extinguisher is a good first step, but depending on the nature of your property and your ideal level of preparedness, you may want to invest in a full-scale fire suppression system.
· Plan, educate, and train. Have a plan for how you’re going to respond to the fire. You should have documented escape routes from the property and a checklist of items to handle in the event of an emergency. You should also train and educate your family to follow these protocols.
· Minimize hazards. Most fire hazards are easy to control. Simple habits, like extinguishing candles before leaving a room and avoiding overloading electrical outlets, can significantly reduce your risk of ever being in a fire.
· Keep your doors closed. At night, consider keeping all your doors closed. Closed doors make it much harder for fires to spread and can control smoke, minimizing the risk of smoke inhalation.
Staying Safe During a Fire
If your preventative measures don’t work, how can you stay safe during a fire?
· Respond to small fires immediately. If a small fire breaks out and you notice it, try to address it immediately. Depending on the nature and location of the fire, that could mean deploying a fire extinguisher, smothering the fire with a blanket, or using water to douse the flames (as long as it’s not an electrical fire, grease fire, or other type of fire where water makes things worse).
· Get out as quickly as possible. Get out of the building as quickly as possible. This is your absolute priority. Be cautious and try to find a safe path to exit.
· Call for help. Once you’re outside and safe, call for emergency services as quickly as possible.
· Stay low. If you’re navigating a burning building, try to stay low. Smoke tends to rise, so staying low will allow you to breathe easier and prevent physical damage from smoke inhalation.
· Use the stairs. Never use an elevator in a fire. Instead, take the stairs.
· Check doors and handles before exiting. Before exiting a room, gently put your hand against the door to feel whether there’s fire on the other side. If there is, use a towel or another protective measure to prevent yourself from touching the hot doorknob/handle.
· Close doors behind you. As you make your way throughout the house, continue closing the doors behind yourself. This should slow the fire down and buy you extra time that you need to escape.
· Block openings with wet towels. If there isn’t a clear path to the exit and you’re trapped in a room, keep the door shut and block any openings with a wet towel. This will prevent the smoke from getting to you.
· Open windows and signal for help. It’s also a good idea to keep the windows open so you can breathe fresh air and signal for help. Keep watch for emergency responders to arrive, and if possible, wave something brightly colored to get their attention.
· Stop, drop, and roll. If any part of you catches fire, the classic advice still holds true: stop, drop, and roll. This is the fastest and safest way to extinguish the flames.
Fires can be incredibly destructive – and they kill thousands of people every year. There’s no way to completely eliminate your risk of being involved in a fire, nor is there any way to guarantee that you’ll escape unscathed if you get caught in one. But with a bit of proactive planning and the knowledge of what to do when a fire breaks out, you’ll be in a much better position.