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Planning, preparation increases your chances of escaping a fire

By Richard S. Campos | Fire Inspector/Life Safety Educator | May 10, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

Thousands of people are killed by fire each year and appropriate planning and preparation could have saved their lives.

Knowing proper escape procedures and being alerted in time can help people 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.

Families should practice their escape plan at least twice a year. The 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 do so 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 them.

If you live in a two-story home, be sure there is a safe way to reach the ground. Make provisions for children, seniors and people with disabilities so they are 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.

For those living in an apartment building, do not use an elevator during a fire. The reason for this is because 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 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. 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, stay low and under the smoke to increase your chances of survival. Smoke contains deadly gases and heat rises. Crawl on your hands and knees, while 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, but 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 following installation instructions and test them monthly.

Change out the smoke detector batteries at least once a year. If your smoke alarm is more than ten years have it replaced. Finally, consider having a fire sprinkler system installed in your humble abode.

For more information about fire escape planning, visit the National Fire Prevention Association website at http://www.nfpa.org/education or contact 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.