By Jennifer Williams
As a firefighter, you know how important it is to have plans A, B and C on the fireground.
When plan A doesn’t work, your training and preparation kicks in to implement B, sometimes even C. Like the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
This is a given for the fire service, but what about the public? As part of the Annual Consumer Perception Study conducted by UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), 32% of respondents reported that they do not have a fire escape plan for their home. The number one reason given was because they’ve simply never thought about it. Also, 21% of those who do have a plan have never reviewed it or practiced it.
The American fire service responds to a fire every 23 seconds, and while we are seeing a decrease in the number of home fires each year, the number of annual fire fatalities is increasing, according to data from the U.S. Fire Administration. Since Jan. 1, 2022, more than 1,600 civilian home fire fatalities in the U.S. have been reported in the news (as of this writing, Sept. 29, 2022).
This year’s NFPA Fire Prevention Week theme “Fire Won’t Wait, Plan Your Escape” is a great time to get your community thinking about fire safety and the urgency to plan ahead. Typically, escape plan messages have only emphasized needing to have two ways out of every room, and the importance of getting out and staying out. But what about when they can’t get out? What options are we giving them to work with? Furthermore, are we giving them the “why”? When the public thinks about fire and smoke, their perceptions often come from what they have seen on TV or the time they made s’mores by the campfire. Without an understanding of how fire behaves in a home filled with synthetic furnishings, the public is left with a false understanding of the real danger.
According to FSRI research, in today’s fire environment, a room may flashover and fill a one-story home or apartment with thick, black, toxic smoke in in three minutes or less, from the time a fire starts, not from the time occupants are made aware that there is a fire. Even with the early warning of a smoke alarm, occupants can be slow to act. Plus, it takes the fire department, on average, six minutes to arrive on scene. Seconds count. When occupants cannot see their way out and their plans A and B aren’t viable, they’re trapped. It is time for Plan C – a closed door.
Through over a decade of research conducted with the fire service, we have seen just how fast fire and smoke can spread throughout a home and the difference a closed door can make. Even in FSRI’s latest research, Study of Fire Service Residential Home Size-up and Search & Rescue Operations, we see how understanding the role of isolation and ventilation during a fire can improve conditions for firefighters and trapped occupants. If occupants can get behind a closed door, call 9-1-1, and then potentially open a window, it not only puts a barrier between them and the fire, but it also buys them time and provides an isolated space for the rescue.
To help educate your community, FSRI is releasing a new series of videos throughout Fire Prevention Month that combines more than 10 years of data with custom 3D modeling and real-world footage from full-scale experiments conducted in various types of structures, ranging from a one-story single-family home to a high-rise apartment. Each video shows how fire grows and spreads, underscoring the dangers of smoke and encouraging viewers to have and practice an escape plan. These resources, along with our First Responders Toolbox, can help your department spread the word about the importance of having working smoke alarms, closed doors and escape plans. Fire moves fast. Plan ahead to save lives.
About the Author
Jennifer Williams is the senior content specialist for UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI). She supports the FSRI team and partners to amplify reach and engage with key stakeholders to increase firefighter knowledge and reduce injuries and deaths in the fire service and the communities they serve. Williams is a second-generation member of the fire service, following in the footsteps of both of her parents. Over the last 16 years, Williams has served as a firefighter/EMT in both Lewes, Delaware, and Burtonsville, Maryland, and worked as a public relations specialist for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, and now with the fire service around the world with FSRI. She received her associate degree in fire science: arson investigation from Montgomery College and is currently working toward her bachelor’s degree in marketing through the University of Maryland University College. Williams has been part of numerous fire and life safety initiatives over the years, including Stop the Bleed and FSRI’s Close Before You Doze.