FIRE SMART: Preparing for the unimaginable

On one of my favourite TV programs, I became concerned as to how they were portraying the rescue of a young boy from a house fire

Not too long ago, I was watching one of my favourite TV programs and became concerned as to how they were portraying the rescue of a young boy from a house fire. I realize that dramatic license in movies and television is all about telling the story, however the misrepresentation of reality can be misleading and problematic when the real event takes place.

If you are one of those people who believe, “house fires are something we only read about in the newspaper or see on the news and that it is never going to happen to me,” you need to know the real facts about house fires.

First and foremost, I have been told that the average person has a one in 700 chance of experiencing a house fire in their lifetime and those odds change dramatically with each individual’s particular attention to fire safety. Therefore it is understandable to see how one might believe that the odds of never having a house fire stand in their favour.

However, it would also make sense to think that buying a smoke alarm is a whole lot better investment than buying a lottery ticket. The reality is that house fires are far too common and there is definitely a chance you could be involved in one. What you know and do when a fire happens to you will have a dramatic effect on how successful your outcome will be.

Secondly, it should be known that house fires are extremely dangerous and unpredictable, no matter how big or small they might be. High temperatures, toxic smoke and structure collapse are just a few of the dangers that commonly exist with each fire. They can change instantly and without warning. Temperatures in house fires can reach in excess of 1000 F.

Human skin will burn at only 130 F and one breath of super heated air is fatal. If you are able to see smoke and flames through windows or doors, the fire inside is usually well established and filling the house with deadly heat and smoke. The smoke is not only filled with hot toxic gases and particulate but quickly becomes thick and black, eliminating any type of visibility.

The only chance of escape is now near the floor where the smoke and heat have not yet settled. Entering a house on fire is a high risk undertaking for even well equipped and well trained firefighters, let alone any well intentioned would be heroes.

You also need to know that when a fire is discovered and is beyond your capacity to extinguish, it is time to leave the building and not return. Once outside, it is important to find the nearest phone and call 911. Do not let anyone go back in the building.

Like the old saying: it is not that people plan to fail but fail to plan.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of a house fire is to be prepared and make a plan. Ask yourself: “What am I going to do if a fire takes place in my home tonight?”

• Do you have working smoke alarms on each floor and in sleeping areas?

• Does everyone living in your home know where all the emergency exits are and at least two ways out of each room?

• Do they all know about staying low below the smoke and feeling closed doors for heat?

• Does everyone living in your home know where to meet when they are out of the house?

• Does anyone in the home need help to escape?

• When you are outside, how are you going to notify 911?

• Have you practiced the plan and is everyone clear on what to do?

Finally, house fires may appear exciting and dramatic on TV but they are nothing but tragic! Out of control, they destroy people and property.

They move quickly, play no favorites, spare nothing and erase any color by changing everything to black.

Please help us at Vernon Fire Rescue Services to help you, by knowing and understanding the real facts about house fires. Make the change from: “Why worry, it will never happen to me,” to: “It could happen to me and I am going to know exactly what to do if it does.”

Lawrie Skolrood is the Vernon Fire Rescue Services deputy chief in charge of fire prevention.