By Kevin Curtis
Special to GUIDON
Fire is fast. In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. In minutes, a house can be engulfed in flames.
Most fires occur in the home when people are asleep. If you wake up to a fire, you will not have time to take valuables because fire spreads too quickly. There is little time, use that time to escape.
If you do not have a home fire escape plan, now is the time to start one. If you have a home fire escape plan, regularly review it with your family and practice it. Do not believe that a fire will not happen in your home and think it will only happen to someone else. That way of thinking could cost you your life, or the life of a loved one.
To develop a home fire escape plan, sit down with a drawing of the inside of your home. Draw each room with all doors, windows or other ways out of the room. Every room should have at least two ways out.
The first way out would be a door, but if smoke or fire block that way, a second way out should be known and used. It is preferred that the second way out lead to ground level or the roof of a porch, to a balcony or other location that can be easily reached from the ground. If you are above the second floor, do not jump; wait where you are and signal for help. Only jump if you are in a life-threatening situation.
Look for obstacles that may block your escape path and remove them. Make sure that any keys to a door that locks from the inside, or locks security grills for doors or windows, are always kept near the door or window for quick escape. Quick-release mechanisms, which everyone can operate, are preferred. Make sure that all windows, doors and locks open easily and are wide enough to allow you to escape. Never paint a window shut. A child must be able to open all windows and doors.
If you live above the second floor, your second escape route should be a fire escape, balcony or the roof of a porch. Those who live in an apartment should become familiar with the building’s fire evacuation plan. Follow all directions that may be given by emergency personnel.
If attempting to escape, take your key with you, as you may need to return to your room or apartment if smoke or flames block your path. As you exit, close all doors behind you to keep the smoke and flame from spreading. Know your surroundings, such as how many doors you are from the fire escape or window.
Always use stairs, never the elevator, to escape. The elevator may stop at the floor where the fire is or fail to operate and trap you inside.
Select a meeting place outside the home, in the front but away from the building. Do not remain too close to the building as broken glass or other objects may hurt you. Meet in the front so that everyone can be quickly accounted for and you can advise first responders that everyone is or is not safely out of the home. Once you are outside, never go back inside for any reason.
Once smoke or fire is present, or the smoke alarm begins to sound, everyone should immediately leave the building. Time is essential; never stop to get a pet or valuables, and put your plan into action immediately.
Call the fire department from a neighbor’s house, a cell phone or from anyplace outside of the building. If you must escape through smoke, crawl low to the ground where the air is cleaner and cooler.
If the smoke alarm sounds while you are asleep, safely go to the door leading toward the exit. Feel the door and doorknob with the back of your hand, and if it is hot to the touch, do not open the door, use the second way out. If the door is cool to the touch, carefully open it, but be prepared to close it quickly if fire or heavy smoke is present.
If faced with smoke or fire along your escape route, retreat to another path or back into the bedroom. If you must remain in the room, take bedding, clothes or other objects to seal the cracks around the door and vents to keep out the smoke. If it is safe to do so, open the window from the top and the bottom. Fresh air will enter from the bottom and the smoke will exit through the top.
Do not break the window. If smoke enters through the open window, or flames are near the open window, close the window immediately. Signal for help by using a flashlight or waiving a bright colored object. If there is a phone in the room, dial 9-1-1 and advise the call taker of the fire and the fact that you are trapped in the room.
Even if fire trucks have arrived, call 9-1-1 and advise them of your location so the firefighters can quickly reach you. Be very specific in describing your exact location so that they can relay the information to the firefighters who can save you. Remain calm.
Make certain that smoke alarms are properly installed and maintained. Remember to practice your fire escape plan at least twice a year and be sure to teach your children how to escape in case of a fire.
Children should be told that they should never hide under the bed, in a closet, in the bathtub or anyplace else. Even though a firefighter in gear may appear to be scary, the firefighter is there to help, and the child should not fear the firefighter — the firefighter is not a monster. Additional planning may be required if a small child, an elderly person or a person who is physically or mentally challenged lives with you.
The Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department reminds everyone that life safety is the No. 1 factor. If you have any questions, call the Fire Prevention Office at 573.596-0886.
(Editor’s note: Curtis is the Fire Prevention Office assistant chief.)
Graphic used with permission.