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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Getting Fired Up About Fire Safety

By Catherine Powell

If there’s one thing that most homeowners dread, it’s to have their home catch fire.  Whether it’s waking up from a deep sleep to hear the smoke detector wail, or returning from work to discover smoke pouring out of a window, nothing gets the Adrenalin pumping faster than a house-fire.  Even worse is the panic that a fire can create in the most sedate individual and you have a recipe for disaster that’s hard to top.  If the situation were to happen to you, do you know what to do to avoid making the matter worse?  Are you prepared to deal with most common sources of house-fires? Read on to find out the do’s and don’ts of fire safety.  
You only have 3 to 5 minutes to live.

All it takes to unleash a fatal firestorm in the typical home is 3 to 5 minutes.  That’s how long it takes a flashover to occur in a room that catches fire.  Once a fire erupts, it quickly spreads to furnishings and draperies.  This feeds the flame and quickly causes the temperature near the ceiling to soar to 1,100 degrees.  At that point, everything in the room that can burn, will burn.  Even worse is the blinding smoke and poisonous fumes that can be unleashed in seconds and a person can perish long before the fire gets to them.  Below are the top-8 things you need to know to deal with a house-fire.

      1.      Minute 1 – In the first minute of a house-fire, the ignition stage is the point where an electrical short or an errant fireplace ember goes from smolder to flame, or a pot left on the stove goes from smoking to flaming.  Reach the fire at this stage with a working fire extinguisher and you can most likely extinguish it.  However, within 30-60 seconds of ignition, the fire is likely to set nearby furnishings ablaze.

      2.      Minute 2 - If you hear the smoke detector go off, don’t assume you can safely deal with the fire on your own, even if you own a fire extinguisher.  In less than the time it takes you to run from your bedroom to the living room or kitchen, a small fire can turn into a big fire.  Opening a door can add enough oxygen to a fire to cause a flashover.  If you hear the smoke alarm go off, the best thing you can do is sniff around the doorjamb to find out if you can smell smoke.  Then put your hand on the door (not the knob) to see if it’s warm.  If the door is cold, you can open it a crack to see if the smoke has reached your location. If it has, call 911 immediately.  Then get everyone out of your home as quickly and safely as possible.  If you don’t detect smoke, carefully follow your nose as you approach the smoke detector. 

3.      Dark & Deadly – What’s even more dangerous than the flames is the thick, black smoke that house fires generate.  Unlike the fires you see on TV, the real McCoy produces blinding conditions that make seeing your hand in front of your face all but impossible.  It also makes breathing a challenge.  Unless you need to cross a smoke-filled room to affect an escape from your dwelling, do not enter a room that’s filling with smoke.  If you are forced to do so, get down on your hands and knees and crawl as quickly as you can to the exit.  Don’t try to rescue your prized possessions or you could wind up collapsing on the floor only to be found unconscious when the firemen arrive.

      4.      Minute 3 – Most people have no idea of how fast a fire can grow and spread inside a structure.  They assume that it takes 10-minutes or more for a fire to go from flareup to ferocious.  They’re dead wrong.  Within three minutes of ignition, the growth stage of a fire can quickly consume all the furnishings, not to mention most of the oxygen in a room. Trying to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher at this stage isn’t only impractical, it’s possibly the last thing you’ll do.  The only thing to do at this point is run for the nearest exit while you can still find it.

      5.      Minutes 4 & 5 – Just as a nuclear pile can reach critical mass, so too can a house-fire.  In the world of firefighting, the term that’s used is flashover.  This is the point in a conflagration where the temperature at the ceiling reaches 1,100 degrees.  At this stage, everything combustible in a room catches fire simultaneously.  Sometimes the furnishings in a room will burst into flames and in other cases the mixture of volatile gases trapped in a room can erupt with explosive force.  Needless to say, if you enter a room that’s nearing flashover, it could be the last thing you ever do.

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      6.      Why would someone enter a burning room? – One of the things that amazes firefighters is how common it is for victims to exit their home only to rush back in.  The reasons can be anything from trying to rescue a loved one or a pet, to attempting to salvage a keepsake.  Once a fire is clearly out of control, the only prudent thing to do is to exit the structure and stay out.  It’s better to wait for the fire department to arrive than to wind up getting trapped in a burning building.  If someone is trapped inside, trying to rush to their rescue could wind up costing both your lives.  Better to try to break a window away from the flames to help affect an escape than to wind up getting overcome by smoke.  This goes for pet rescues too.  As for keepsakes, things can be replaced, lives can’t/

      7.      When was the last time you inspected your fire extinguisher? – There’s a big difference between having a fire extinguisher and knowing how to operate it.  That means if a fire flares up in your home, the amount of time it takes you to read the instructions and employ the extinguisher could mean the difference between dousing a fire and having it reach the point where a fire extinguisher can no longer put it out.  Even worse, if you haven’t inspected your extinguisher in years, it could lead you to discovering that while the device is handy, it no longer functions.  If you want to have a fighting chance of fighting a fire before it gets out of control, you need to check to see if your extinguisher is fully charged at least once a year.  Then, you need to read the instructions to familiarize yourself with the device, so you won’t wind up in a position where your extinguisher isn’t able to do the thing it was designed to do. 

      8.      What’s the plan, Stan? – Last but not least, you need to familiarize everyone in your household with the do’s and don’ts of fire safety.  That means showing your family what to do if a fire breaks out or the smoke alarm activates.  It also means familiarizing them with the location and operation of all the extinguishers in your home, as well as all the escape routes to take in the event of a fire.    

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more ways to save on flood insurance, check out her website at


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