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Community Focus
by Tom Kiurski

60 seconds to live

Ensure your community takes ownership for their own rescue in a fire

By Tom Kiurski

While trailing in the game with no timeouts remaining and a minute left on the clock, even the best-prepared professional football team can be in disarray.

One minute is not a lot of time, but that is how long most people have to escape their home once the smoke alarm signals that the house is on fire. That is just 60 short seconds to get out of the house to safety.

Homes have many more plastic products today than ever before. So when enough smoke accumulates to sound the smoke alarm, the fire is growing so fast that only those with a well-rehearsed escape plan have the greatest chances of survival. To illustrate how quickly a fire can burn in a typical home, go online and search for videos with the key words "room fires" and "flashovers."

These are great pieces to play when you have an adult group together to discuss home fire safety.

Sense of security
Most people feel safe in their homes. While that is a good thing, it leads many in your community to harbor a false sense of security. While they are behind doors and windows that lock, they need to know how to escape from their home if an unwanted fire should break out.

Without a plan already in place, and plenty of working smoke alarms to signal that a fire is early in its growth, those 60 seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Another factor that leads people into a false sense of security is the idea that the fire department will rescue them. Explain to your community that while emergency responders will do everything in their power to make a rescue, time is not an ally. Make them understand just how long it takes to place a 911 call, dispatch resources, arrive on scene and prepare to enter a hostile, smoky environment to perform a rescue.

Contrast that with how long 60 seconds is and how fast fire can accelerate.

Owning home safety
People really need to take ownership of home fire safety for those reasons. No one wants to have a home fire and most believe that one will never happen to them.

The truth is that more than 3,000 people die in home fires in the United States each year, and many more are injured. Most deaths happen in small numbers, usually one at a time, and this rarely makes headline news for very long.

Many people also assume that today's homes are more fire safe and better built. It is important to teach them that while the engineering is better, the components are much thinner and will fail at a faster rate than those buildings of a few decades ago. 

The good news is that it doesn't take a lot of time or money to make homes more fire safe. The best weapon is working smoke alarms on all levels of the home, outside of all sleeping areas and even in the bedrooms for maximum protection. Make sure you stress how important it is to test them monthly, replace the batteries annually and replace the smoke alarms every 10 years. 

Game plan
The next step is to practice a home fire escape plan. This includes all members of the household, and they should rehearse the actions they would take if they are awakened by a smoke alarms signal.

This also includes knowing how to use two ways out of every room in the home, and meeting at an outside meeting place to make sure everyone has made it out safely. Discuss calling the emergency dispatchers who will answer the 911 call for help, and how to get the very basic information across in a timely manner.  

The next time you are talking to a group at a civic group meeting, homeowners association or any of your local businesses who hold a "lunch and learn" session, use the above examples and videos for a great message.

Be sure to stress that, like the professional football team with no timeouts remaining, they will not be able to stop the clock and discuss what play to call when a fire breaks out.
 

About the author

Tom Kiurski has been in the fire service since 1981. He is the Training Coordinator and Director of Fire Safety Education for Livonia, Mich., Fire & Rescue. He has served as a firefighter/paramedic, engineer and lieutenant prior to his appointment as the training coordinator. He has earned an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., a Bachelors Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Tom teaches fire service-related courses at local colleges and fire academies. He has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis seven times, as well as numerous state and local conferences. He has written more than 300 articles on fire safety education and training that have appeared in various fire service publications. Contact Tom at Tom.Kiurski@firerescue1.com.



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