Special to GUIDON
In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 1.3 million fires in the United States occurred in 2017, resulting in $23 billion in losses, 3,400 deaths and 14,670 injuries.
The Department of Homeland Security urges everyone to keep in mind these four important elements about fire:
Fire is fast
— In less than 30 seconds a small flame can turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house or for it to be engulfed in flames.
Fire is hot
— Heat is more threatening than flames. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super-hot air will scorch your lungs and melt clothes to your skin.
Fire is dark
— Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness.
Fire is deadly
— Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.
Before a fire
Remember that every second counts if a fire breaks out, so always be prepared. Before any possible fire can strike, formulate an escape plan so it’s possible to exit the house or building as quickly as possible.
It’s a good idea to practice the escape plan at least twice per year. Here are some tips to consider when preparing this plan:
— Find two ways to get out of each room in the event the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke.
— A secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows.
— Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly, and that security bars can be properly opened.
— Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
— Teach children not to hide from firefighters.
A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire. Complete these tasks to ensure fire alarms in the house are working as they should:
— Install both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms, or dual-sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors.
— Test batteries monthly.
— Replace batteries in battery-powered and hard-wired smoke alarms at least once a year (except non-replaceable 10-year lithium batteries).
— Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement, both inside and outside of sleeping areas.
— Replace the entire smoke alarm unit every 8-10 years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
— Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking — it can be a deadly mistake.
During a fire
While it may be difficult to keep a clear head during a time of crisis, it’s important to remember these tips which can help improve survival chances from a fire:
— Crawl low under any smoke to your exit. Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
— Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, or if there is smoke coming around the door, leave the door closed and use your second way out.
— If you open a door, open it slowly. Be ready to shut it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present.
— If you can’t get to someone needing assistance, leave and call 911. Tell the emergency operator where the person is located.
— If pets are trapped inside your home, tell firefighters right away, but do not re-enter a burning structure. Firefighters are trained professionals.
— If you can’t get out, close the door and cover vents and cracks around doors with cloth or tape to keep smoke out. Call 911, tell the dispatcher where you are and signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.
— If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop and roll. Stop immediately, drop to the ground and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. If it is impossible to stop, drop and roll, smother the flames with a blanket or towel.
— Use cool water to treat burns immediately for three to five minutes. Cover burns with a clean, dry cloth. Seek medical help right away by calling 911.
The USFA reported that 51.4 percent of all residential building fires in 2017 were caused by cooking, so never leave food on the stove unattended, as it could result in the loss of the entire dwelling or even life itself.
For more information on fire prevention, visit the USFA’s website at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/.
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Department of Homeland Security website, ready.gov.)