It’s Time to Close the Door on Fast-moving Home Fires
As consumers, we have come to expect speed. We order a book on Amazon, and it’s delivered to our front porch the next day. You order your coffee on a cell phone app, and it’s waiting for you at the coffee shop. But, speed is also killing people in their homes.
The speed at which a fire races through a home has increased at a deadly rate. Forty years ago, people had an average of 17 minutes to escape a house fire after the activation of the smoke alarms. Today, you only have about 3 minutes to escape.
Research tells us that the heat and speed of fire growth have both increased. This is due in part to the fact that the materials used to build and furnish our homes have changed. While natural materials were used in the past, synthetics are now more common – and they burn faster. Add to that the open floor plans popular in today’s homes, and it creates a “perfect storm” for a quick escalation of a fire.
The results have been devastating.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that fire departments across the U.S. respond to an average of 357,000 residential fires each year, resulting in an average of 2,470 civilian deaths and 12,890 civilian injuries each year.
When smoke alarms alerted John Bailey and his teenaged daughter Kasey to a fire in their Spokane Valley home last summer, they were able to escape safely with the family cat.
Less than three months earlier, Spokane Valley firefighters had installed those smoke alarms during a one-day “Home Fire Safety Visit” campaign with the Red Cross. Five of the 305 smoke alarms installed that day were in Bailey’s home, which didn’t have working smoke alarms.
The fire broke out in Kasey’s unoccupied bedroom. The bedroom door was closed at the time of the fire, giving Kasey and her father more time to escape and helping to contain the fire and limit damage to the rest of the home.
We know that during a fire, the average temperature inside a room with a closed door is less than 100 degrees and carbon monoxide levels average less than 100 parts per million (ppm). Compare this to an open door room where temperatures can quickly climb to more than 1,000 degrees with carbon monoxide levels over 10,000 ppm.
Each week, Spokane Valley firefighters respond to a variety of fire calls. Often, residents have escaped themselves prior to our arrival. Sometimes residents are trapped inside their burning home. This is why we are encouraging our community to change a simple behavior. In partnership with United Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute, we are promoting “Close Before You Doze” to encourage every family to make sure they close all of their doors – bedrooms, bathrooms, basement – at night to starve the fire of the oxygen it requires to grow and to give you more time to escape.
There are simple steps you can take to increase your chances of survival in fast-moving house fire:
- Make sure your smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms are in working condition. Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area. Install alarms on every level of the home. Smoke alarms should be interconnected. When one sounds, they all sound. Test them monthly. Replace them every 10 years.
- Close all your doors at night – bedrooms, bathrooms, basement
- If a fire occurs and you can get out of a burning structure, get out and close doors behind you as you exit. If you can’t exit immediately, put a closed door between you and the fire to buy yourself valuable time. Don’t ever go back inside a burning home.
- For parents worried about not hearing their children in the middle of the night with a door closed, simply place a baby monitor in your child’s room. If you can’t get to your children’s room because you’re cut off by smoke, the closed door will provide a safety barrier allowing them a longer period of breathable air until help arrives.
- Have an escape plan. Identify multiple escape routes from every room and practice them as a family at different times of the day and night.
Once a fire starts, there’s little time to think. Think now so that you can act then. Take these fire safety and prevention steps today and you’ll sleep easier at night, with your doors closed.