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Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die and more than 20,000 are injured in fires, many of which could have been prevented. Direct property loss due to fire is estimated at $10 billion annually.
To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire. Fire spreads quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.
Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may fall into a deeper sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns, by a three-to-one ratio.
Total and immediate evacuation is the safest.
During a Fire
To escape a fire, you should:
- Check closed doors for heat before you open them. If you are escaping through a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame before you open it. Never use the palm of your hand or fingers to test for heat - burning those areas could impair your ability to escape a fire (i.e., ladders and crawling).
- Hot Door - Do not open. Escape through a window. If you cannot escape, hang a white or light-colored sheet outside the window, alerting fire fighters to your presence.
- Cool Door - Open slowly and ensure fire and/or smoke is not blocking your escape route. If your escape route is blocked, shut the door immediately and use an alternate escape route, such as a window. If clear, leave immediately through the door and close it behind you. Be prepared to crawl. Smoke and heat rise. The air is clearer and cooler near the floor.
- Crawl low under any smoke to your exit - heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
- Close doors behind you as you escape to delay the spread of the fire.
- Stay out once you are safely out. Do not reenter. Call 9-1-1.
After a Fire
The following are guidelines for different circumstances in the period following a fire:
- If you are with burn victims, or are a burn victim yourself, call 9-1-1; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.
- If you detect heat or smoke when entering a damaged building, evacuate immediately.
- If you are a tenant, contact the landlord.
- If you have a safe or strong box, do not try to open it. It can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the box has cooled, the contents could burst into flames.
- If you must leave your home because a building inspector says the building is unsafe, ask someone you trust to watch the property during your absence.
Clothing on Fire (Stop, Drop and Roll)
- Roll person around on the floor to smother the flames.
- Only drench with water if safety shower is immediately available.
- Obtain medical attention. Call 9-1-1.
- Report incident to supervisor.
Using a Fire Extinguisher
Only use a fire extinguisher if the fire is very small and you have been trained to do so safely. If you cannot put out the fire, leave immediately and make sure the building alarm is activated and emergency personnel notified.
For more information about fire extinguishers, visit the Safety & Security website.
For more information about fire safety, visit the Environmental Health & Safety website.