Fire Emergency Procedures: When It's Not a Drill
If a fire breaks out in your home, your first response may be to dart through the smoke and flames to escape. However, doing so can significantly decrease your chances of escaping.
Increase your chances of a safe escape by following these fire emergency procedures:
Use Your Fire Escape Route
1. Feel for Heat Before Opening Doors. In a fire emergency, opening doors without first checking them for heat can cause smoke and flames from the fire to rush into a room, overwhelming you in seconds. Before opening a door along your fire escape route:
- Use the back of your hand to feel for heat on the door, knob and space between the door and frame.
- If the door is warm, do not open it; use an alternate escape route.
2. Exiting Through Smoke. If you encounter smoke along your escape route, use an alternate path. If you must exit through smoke, crawl on your hands and knees to find a temporary zone of breathable air about 1 to 2 feet above the floor.
3. Escaping From Upper Levels. If your primary exit is impassable in a fire emergency, and your secondary exit is above the first floor, do not jump to the ground from the secondary exit. Try to climb down an escape ladder, balcony, porch, tree, or garage.
Escaping a fire from an apartment building or high-rise poses several different challenges. If you cannot escape from the building’s designated escape route, it is recommended that you “defend in place” against the fire. The following tips will help you in the event that you cannot escape during a fire, whether you’re in a house, apartment or high-rise:
- Go to your secondary exit and shut any doors between you and the fire.
- Prevent smoke from entering the room by using duct tape, towels or clothes to seal cracks above, around and under the door.
- Open a window a few inches at the top and bottom to allow fresh air in at the bottom and smoke out at the top. Shut the window tightly if the airflow begins to draw smoke into the room. Avoid breaking the window, as you will not be able to shut it if smoke blows into the room from the outside.
- If the room has a phone, call the fire department and tell the dispatcher which room you are in.
- Wait at the window and wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth to help firefighters find you.
- Never use the elevator.
If Clothing Catches Fire
If your clothing catches fire, don't run. The air rushing by you can fan the fire and cause it to spread quickly. Instead:
- Drop to the ground.
- Cover your face with your hands.
- Roll back and forth to smother the flames. If someone else's clothes catch fire, and he or she is unable to stop, drop and roll, then throw a heavy blanket or rug over the person to put out the flames.
Plan ahead, especially if you or a family member use a wheelchair or are physically unable to stop, drop and roll. Mount a small personal-use fire extinguisher in an accessible place and keep a flame resistant blanket nearby to smother flames.
Fight Fire Only If You Know How
Use a portable fire extinguisher to put out a small fire only if you know when and how to do so. Fires spread very quickly, so if you are unsure about your ability to operate an extinguisher, don't guess. Get out and call for help. Property can be replaced, but lives cannot.
1. Choose the Right Fire Extinguisher. First, you must be sure that you have the right extinguisher for the type of fire most likely to occur in your home. Extinguishers are labeled with standard symbols or letters for the classes of fire they can put out:
- A: Paper, wood and ordinary combustibles.
- B: Flammable liquids.
- C: Energized electrical equipment.
An extinguisher labeled A:B:C can be used on all three classes of fire.
2. Know When to Use Extinguishers. If you are highly confident that you can operate one safely, then use an extinguisher only if:
- The fire is small and confined.
- Family members and visitors have been evacuated.
- The fire department has been called.
- You have a clear escape route.
3. Remember PASS.
- Pull the pin and release the locking mechanism.
- Aim the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the discharge lever slowly and evenly.
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
The best strategy to keep you and your family safe during a home fire is preventing, planning and practicing. A simple home fire plan could mean the difference between life and death in a real emergency.
Following sound home fire emergency procedures, working them into your home fire evacuation plan and practicing them routinely, helps ensure you and your family have the best chance of remaining safe during a fire emergency.