How to Survive a House Fire
Fire is one of the deadliest events that can strike a home. The sad fact is many people every year lose their homes, or even their lives, to fires that could have been stopped if they were caught early.
If you’re caught in a house fire, follow these steps:
- Get a Fire Extinguisher
- Sound an Alarm
- Call 911
- Leave Your Valuables
- Stay Low to Escape
- Cover Your Nose
- Close the Doors Behind You
- Stay Outside
- Meet at Your Designated Evacuation Spot
Those of us of the preparedness mindset sometimes spend so much time on food storage, water filtration, guns, ammo, and on and on that we overlook the simple tasks. Keep reading to learn how to survive a house fire.
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What do you do if You’re Caught in a House Fire?
Get a Fire Extinguisher – Your first thought, if you see a fire in your house, should be to get a fire extinguisher and fight the fire. If you can’t get to your fire extinguisher safely, the fire is obviously too large or fighting the fire may cause you to get trapped, you should evacuate instead.
Sound an Alarm – Yell out loudly to make sure the rest of your family and anyone else in your house knows that there’s a fire.
Leave Your Valuables – Everyone wants to save those wedding photos or some other special memento on the way out. Don’t even think about it! There is no inanimate object that’s worth your life!
Stay Low to Escape – The smokey, hot air will rise up toward the ceiling so you should stay low where there is going to be less smoke and more oxygen.
Cover Your Nose – You can use a damp cloth or towel to cover your mouth if you have time. It can help to filter out some of the smoke.
If you’re escaping with children, try to cover their faces as best as you can.
Close the Doors Behind You – Make sure you close the doors to any rooms as you leave. Closing doors slows the spread of fire and may make it possible for a loved one to escape safely.
Call 911 – Some people will put this step higher up the list. I don’t believe that you have time to call 911 until you’ve safely made it outside.
If you weren’t able to grab your phone on the way out, have the neighbors call or grab someone passing by.
Stay Outside – Once you’ve made it outside, you should stay there! Going back into the house is extremely dangerous.
Meet at Your Designated Evacuation Spot – Meet at your designated safe spot! Make sure all of your family is there once you get there.
Prior to a Fire
- If you live in an apartment building, choosing a ground floor apartment will greatly increase your chances of surviving a fire.
- Practice your evacuation plan and try to find your way out of your home in the dark with all the lights out.
- Don’t let combustibles like newspaper and trash pile up.
- Make sure portable heaters will turn off if tipped over.
- Clean chimneys annually to avoid chimney fires.
- Make sure none of your electronics have frayed or exposed wires.
- Ensure any fires are completely extinguished before leaving your house and store any coals outside in a sealed metal container.
The Types of Fire
A type A fire is comprised of typical flammable materials such as paper, wood, plastic, furniture, etc.
A type B fire is a fire that involves flammable liquids such as gasoline, paint, motor oil, and flammable gasses like propane.
Type C fires consist of electrical equipment that has power. If power is removed, then the fire will become one of the other types.
Understanding Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers are rated based on the type of fire they can extinguish. This will look something like this: 2:A 10:BC. The number is the capacity of the extinguisher to fight that type of fire. C is not rated. It simply means that the extinguisher is capable of being used on energized electrical equipment.
The most common type of extinguisher is ABC. I recommend picking up this fire extinguisher.
The acronym PASS is a commonly taught way to remember how to correctly use a fire extinguisher. Pull the safety pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the trigger, and Sweep from side to side until the fire is contained.
For a grease fire in the kitchen, you can use salt, baking soda or cover it with a pan. NEVER use water, this will just spread the grease or oil and the fire. If the fire is large you should use a B type fire extinguisher, making sure that the pressure doesn’t spread the burning grease or oil.
How Many Fire Extinguishers Should You Have?
You should have an extinguisher anywhere you have a higher chance of a fire. The kitchen, in the garage or any workshop type area, etc. Having one by the exits is also a common suggestion.
I personally have one under each sink in the house which puts a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and in each bathroom on every floor of the house with an extra one in the master bedroom. I also have one in the garage and in each vehicle.
We should never overlook the need to have a fire extinguisher close at hand. This one item makes the odds of surviving a fire much more likely.
According to OSHA, you should inspect your fire extinguishers every month.
Should You Fight the Fire?
If you feel you can safely fight the fire, then you definitely should! Once you can no longer contain the fire you should evacuate and call for assistance. If you successfully contain the fire, you should monitor the area to ensure there are no flare-ups while the area is still hot.
What Makes a Fire so Deadly?
Fires kill 2,500 people a year and injure more than 12,000. Homes can be engulfed in flames in just a matter of minutes. If the fire occurs at night, while the entire family is asleep, precious minutes can be lost while everyone wakes up and gets their bearings. In cases like these, early warning is the best way to survive.
If you take nothing else from this article, please ensure that your smoke alarms are functioning! Checking them once a month is recommended and replacing the batteries twice a year is a good idea. One fire extinguisher per level and one outside of each bedroom should be considered a minimum. In the case of a fire at night, a simple fire alarm will allow you to get enough notification to implement your evacuation plan.
Have an Evacuation Plan!
Every member of the family should know what to do in the case of a fire. The primary plan should involve the immediate evacuation of the home with everyone meeting at a pre-designated area, far enough away from the house to be safe from a fire. Once you’ve evacuated, you should immediately call 911.
You also need to know what you will do if a member of the family does not make it to this rally point. Firefighters will tell you never to re-enter a burning building, but we all know this goes out the window if your children are stuck inside of your burning home. You’ll have to approach this scenario on a case by case basis. Having a plan prior to just rushing back into your house is key. Accessing bedrooms from the outside of the building may be the best course of action.
If a primary escape route is blocked by fire or smoke, you’ll need another way out. Windows on the ground floor can provide an excellent means to vacate the building. If you live in a multi-story home, you should consider getting collapsible escape ladders for second-floor bedrooms.
As many of us know, most fire-related deaths are not caused by the fire itself. Smoke, lack of oxygen, and superheated air make up a majority of the deaths. Anyone evacuating through a smoke-filled room should crawl below the level of the smoke in order to avoid breathing as much of the smoke as possible. There are also escape hoods available on the open market, if you’re so inclined.
How long do you have to get out of a house fire? The Red Cross says that you have just two minutes to escape a house fire! On average it takes just 5 minutes for a house to be completely consumed in a fire. Don’t waste time, get out right away!
What causes house fires? The five most common causes of house fires are:
- Electrical Malfunctions
- Careless Smoking
Learning to survive a house fire can help you plan fire drills, prepare the right equipment and educate your family!