Would You Know What to Do if Your House Was on Fire?

“What would you save if your house was on fire?” is an old philosophical question, but when confronted with a real live house fire, it’s a question that has only has one good answer: save people, not possessions. And as most firefighters will tell you, the best course of action when caught in a house fire is to get out and stay out. Of course, while getting out and staying out is good advice, it’s easier said than done. Here are some tips from FEMA and professional firefighters on what to do when you’re caught in a burning house:

1.) Create an Escape Plan and Follow It – Make sure everyone staying in your house is familiar with its layouts and exits. Then practice exiting the house from every room in the house, making sure that you have allowed for at least two exits from everywhere in the house. While this may seem like common sense, navigating your home during a fire emergency is quite different from navigating your home in the light of day. If you live in a two story house, invest in fire safety ladders.

2.) Specify a Meeting Place – Many unnecessary fire injuries and deaths occur when people reenter burning buildings to rescue people, pets or possessions. When planning your fire escape route, specify a meeting place outside and well away from your home. If someone does not arrive at the meeting place, do not reenter the building. Let emergency workers, who have the proper training and equipment, rescue your missing person.

3.) Test Doors Before Opening – According to FEMA, if attempting to escape through a closed door, first use the back of your hand to test the top of the door, the doorknob and the crack between the door and the door frame. Never use the palm of your hand to test for heat because a burn could mean that you become incapacitated in later escape maneuvers such as trying to crawl or climb a ladder. If the door is hot, never open it. Instead, attempt to escape through a window or signal firefighters with a light colored sheet or flashlight. If the door is cool, you may not be out of the woods yet. Open it slowly and check your surroundings. If your planned escape route is blocked, close the door and use an alternate escape route. If clear, leave immediately.

4.) Close Doors – When escaping a burning house, always close doors behind you as you move from room to room. This can potentially save you from harmful smoke and chemical inhalation.

5.) Be Prepared to Get Low – Smoke and heat rise, so if your house is full of flames, you are safest on your hands and knees near the floor. Many more people die from smoke inhalation than they do from flames. Also, poisonous gases and heavy smoke, which can impede sight and respiratory functions, tend to collect on the ceiling.

6.) Don’t Panic – If you find that all your escape routes are blocked, stay in the room with the door closed. Keep smoke out by piling blankets and bedding against the door. Signal out the window to firefighters or passersby with a flashlight or sheet, and stay close to the floor near the window.

Stay tuned tomorrow for information on teaching children about fire safety.