NEWS | May 4, 2017

Planning, preparation increases your chances of escaping a fire

By Richard S. Campos, Fire Inspector/Life Safety Educator 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron

Thousands of people are killed by fire each year. Appropriate planning and preparation could have saved their lives. Fire is fatal, however you can survive. Knowing proper escape procedures and being alerted in time people can survive fires in their homes.

Approximately half of the people responding to a recent survey conducted by the National Fire Protection Agency, or NFPA, said their family had a fire escape plan, however only 16 percent said they had practiced it.

Being prepared increases your chances of escaping a fire safely. Being informed and aware of exits, escape routes and procedures to follow in case of a fire should be a priority for everyone.

Practice your escape plan at least twice a year. Your exit drill should be as realistic as possible. Have everyone participate and appoint someone to be a monitor. Pretend that some exits are blocked by fire and practice using alternate routes. Instruct family members where to meet outside to get accountability. A fire drill is not a race … get out, but carefully.

Unlocking all doors and windows rapidly, even in the dark should be practiced by everyone in the home. Some homes may have windows or doors are equipped with security bars.  Ensure they are available with quick-release devices and everyone in the home is aware on how to use.

If you live in a two-story home, be sure there is a safe way to reach the ground. Make provisions for children, senior adults and people with disabilities to be able to escape. People having difficulty moving should have a phone in their sleeping area and, if possible, have their bedroom on the ground floor.

If you live in an apartment building, by no means use an elevator during a fire. The elevator may stop at the floor which contains the fire. Certain high-rise facilities may contain a fire evacuation plan that may require to stay where you are and wait for the fire department. 

Always test the door, the knob and the crack between the door and its frame with the back of your hand to test for heat prior to opening the door. Use an alternative escape route if the door is warm – the fire is in the immediate area. Open the door with extreme caution if it feels cool. Open the door slowly and be prepared to slam it shut using your shoulder if smoke or flames are on the other side.

Close all doors between you and the fire if an escape route is not manageable. By stuffing the cracks around doors with t-shirts, bed sheets, or blankets will keep out the smoke. Signal for help with a light-colored cloth or flashlight while standing by the window.

If you are caught inside a burning building, one way to increase your chances of survival is to stay low under the smoke. Smoke contains deadly gases and heat rises. Crawl on your hands and knees, maintaining your head 12 to 24 inches above the floor. During a fire, the air will be cleaner near the floor. If you encounter smoke when using your primary exit, use an alternate route.

Once outside, stay outside. Do not attempt to rescue possessions or pets. With loved ones still inside and possibly trapped, this will be extremely difficult to do. Firefighters are better equipped to rescue them. Penetrating smoke and heat can be unbearable and firefighters have the training, experience and protective gear to enter the burning building. Leave the building and call the fire department.

The first line of defense in getting alerted for fire are smoke detectors. Smoke detectors are vital in alerting people before they become trapped or overcome by smoke. Most home fires occur at night when people are asleep. Smoke detectors cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half.

Install smoke detectors, completely following installation instructions and test them monthly. Change out smoke detector batteries at least once a year. If your smoke alarm is more than 10 years old, have it replaced. Finally, consider having a fire sprinkler system installed in your home.

For more information about fire escape planning, visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at or call the Joint Base San Antonio fire prevention offices at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston at 210-221-2727, JBSA-Lackland at 210-671-2921 or JBSA-Randolph at 210-652-6915.