What To Do In A House Fire

Written by Jack Billington

It is not often that we prepare for disasters, and this lack of preparedness usually has devastating results. Very few fire victims ever think that they could be in a situation where fast actions would be needed, and when the time comes, confusion reigns and things fall apart pretty fast.

Rather than hoping for the best and throwing caution to the wind when it comes to house fires, it is best to have the necessary preparations in place, just in case your house catches fire since every second will count in such emergencies. Knowing where to turn and the right way to handle such a situation prevents you from panicking, and you can, therefore, have a clear mind throughout the process.

First things first, so your house is on fire, what is the first thing you should do? Forget your material belongings and make sure that you and everyone else in the house make it out safely as fast as you can. That should be the very first priority. Do not go looking for your pets before ensuring that all humans are safely on the outside.

What To Do In A House Fire?

The reason why a safe exit is the first thing on the list is that timing impacts how successful you will be in protecting your loved ones. One minute, the house could be on fire and the next, the whole structure could come crashing down, claiming a few lives in the process. To help you stay safe and increase you and your loved ones’ survival rates, read the guidelines below on how best to deal with a house fire.

How to stay safe during a house fire

React fast

Fires spread fast, and it is in your best interests that you get moving as soon as you hear the smoke alarm or see a flame. Do not start looking for your valuables such as your phone or jewelry, but instead make a beeline for the nearest exit.

Your sole priority at this stage should be a fast and safe exit for you and anyone else in the house. If the fire occurs at night, yell at the other people in the house and quickly move from room to room waking them. Be sure to maintain a calm voice when warning them of the fire as you do not want to spook them and create more problems in the process.

Ensure that nobody gets left behind grabbing their possessions and that everyone is out in a matter of seconds if possible. Taking longer than a few minutes to get out will increase the chances of the whole house catching fire and people getting trapped inside. Keep this in mind.

Use exit doors

As you make your way out of the house, be on the lookout for doors with smoke underneath. If you see smoke rising from beneath a door, do not open it as the toxic smoke behind that entrance is a sure sign that fire is about to spread to that room.

Where you do not see any signs of smoke beneath a door, use the back of your hand to test how hot the door is. If the door feels cold to the touch, carefully open it and walk into the next room. In a case where you cannot safely exit your chamber because there is a fire in your way, close the door as a means of protection from the fire.

You could find yourself in a scenario where the only door close to you feels hot to the touch, or there is smoke rising from under it. In such a case, escaping through the window becomes the only option as opposed to waiting for people to come to your rescue. They could take too long to do so.

Avoid smoke inhalation

As you make your way out of the house, there is a high likelihood that the air will have filled with smoke. Since smoke tends to rise, the best way to make it through the rooms safely is to stay low on the floor and move by crawling or crouching.

Your loved ones may feel that they can make it out faster by running but advise them that they are better off moving slowly but surely under the smoke. When inhaled, smoke can disorient a person and make it hard for them to make it out of the building. It can also knock someone out so be sure to point this out to the people in the house in a calm, audible voice.

If you are walking through a room with a lot of smoke, cover your mouth and nose to keep yourself from breathing in the smoke. A wet cloth on the nose and mouth also works well as it prevents smoke inhalation. However, do not go looking for water as this can have dire effects given that the wet cloth only buys you sixty seconds or so. Solely use this method when water is readily available in your exit path.

A little advice – spend $50-$100 dollars and buy a few gas masks in case of such kind of situations. It can save your LIFE!

If you catch a fire

People tend to panic when their clothes catch fire, and they end up running, thus fuelling the fire. If this happens to you, do not waste a minute and instead drop to the ground and roll until the flame goes out. This mechanism smothers the fire by denying it the components it needs to stay alive. As you roll on the ground, place your hands on your face as a way to protect it from the fire.

If you have adequate time before leaving the house, you can get rid of any synthetic fibers on your body as such clothes tend to catch fire very fast. They also melt while on the body, thus sticking to the skin and resulting in severe burns. If you cannot change out of the synthetic clothes fast, leave the house.

Warding off smoke

Where there is smoke, there is a fire, and this saying holds true when it comes to the spread of house fires. You may find yourself in a state where you cannot leave your house as the house fire is keeping you from exiting your room.

The most important thing to do in this case is to stay calm and ward off the smoke as you wait for help to arrive. First off, close your door and cover all crevices and vents to your room by using tape or cloth. Anything that can keep off the smoke is a welcome idea. Whatever you do, do not fall into a state of panic as this will prevent you from making rational decisions at this crucial moment.

Having some form of control in this situation counts for everything.

Stuck on the second floor?

Use a signal for help if you cannot make your way out and are on the second floor such that you cannot jump out through the window. Move close to the windows and grab people’s attention by using something such as a sheet or something that is visible from the outside. This signal will put you in a position where the first responders can work their way to you on getting to the site.

As you do this, ensure that the doors and windows in the room stay closed. Leaving the window open creates room for oxygen to draw the fire to you. Place towels, cloths, tape or any other materials under the door and on the cracks to keep the flames at bay.

Make an escape

The chances are high that you have an escape ladder in the house if your house is of multiple storeys. Now is the time to make use of it if you cannot leave your room and the fire seems uncontrollable. If you lack such an option, you can try to exit the room by using the ledge. Step onto the ledge and face the building as you work your way out.

If you are on the second floor, you could try hanging from the ledge as you wait for help. Supposing that the fire gets top close and the only option is to let go and fall to the ground, there is a chance that you could make a safe landing.

Though the options of hanging and standing on the ledge are available, it is always best to stay in the room and wait for help. As you wait, work towards keeping the chamber free of smoke and cover your nose and mouth. Only opt for the other two when the situation becomes dire, and help is far from getting there.

Upon exit

So you are finally out of the house, what next?

Headcount

Is everyone with you or is there someone missing? The only way to find out is to assemble and do a quick head count before deciding on the best way forward. If one of you is not amongst the group, you can go back in to get them but only if it is safe to do so. There are cases where the whole house might be ablaze and going back in would be too significant a risk to take.

In such a case, wait for the first respondents to get there and let them know that someone is trapped inside. Also, ensure you let them know if everyone is present so that they do not send someone in for naught.

Call your local emergency number.

Different places have different service numbers so be sure to know yours off the head. If all of you left your valuables in the house, the chances are high that you also forgot your phones there. Use a neighbor’s phone to contact the fire department.

Assess your injuries

After you have ensured that the respondents are on their way, it is now time to assess any injuries that occurred during the exit. With the rush of the moment, it is entirely possible that some of you got grazed or wounded. As you wait for the respondents to come, you can use some first aid measures in the meantime.

Once medical staff gets there, they can take over from where you’ve left off.

Stay away from the fire.

Choose a fire assembly point that is far from the burning building. Sometimes, fire causes buildings to crumble, and if that happens, it is best for you to be a safe distance away from the blaze.

How to prevent future house fires

Whether you are a fire victim with the hope of finding a way to deal with such occurrences or you are a homeowner trying to safeguard your loved ones, there are vital steps that come into play in fire prevention.

Escape plan

It would be much easier for everyone to exit a burning building if they were all in on a given strategy. As such, plan by performing fire drills at your home. Many people are aware of ways to stay safe if their office building catches fire but lack such an elaborate plan in their homes.

The reasoning behind such plans is quite similar as it is to keep you alert in case of a fire occurrence. Formulate an escape plan and let your loved ones know of its existence. Go through it together and practice it at least twice per year to ensure that it stays fresh in all your minds.

Making the plan a regular part of your routine ensures that when and if the time comes, all of you can follow through with it devoid of panic. When it comes to the plan, be sure to be on the lookout for loopholes which can be a source of alarm if a fire should occur.

One thing that people forget to take into account is that fire is very unpredictable, and where you think that you can escape a room in a given way, it turns out that you overlooked one fact that renders the escape plan unworkable. Because of this unpredictability, it is prudent that you come up with at least two ways to get out of every room in the house.

There should be a primary plan, and if that fails, the alternatives can then come into play. An example would be where a door cannot open, and you opt to use another door or the window in the room.

Also, take into account that fire affects electricity and there is a high likelihood that you would make your way out in the dark if the house fire took place at night. Practice crouching or crawling in the dark by doing it with your eyes shut. Be sure to consider many options when making your plan and if need be, consult a fire specialist to come to your aid.

Prepare your home

Fit your home with smoke detectors rather than waiting to sight fire upon occurrence. If you have some in place, ensure that they are functional and that their batteries work. Your windows should be such that you can quickly open them from the inside if need be.

Security bars can be a deterrent as one tries to escape by the windows so if you have these in place, use release devices on them for safety purposes. Make sure that everyone in your home knows how to work the release devices to make the escape process smooth for everyone. In this way, you will increase your survival chances by a significant percentage.

Buy collapsible ladders and ensure that they are from a recognized laboratory for reliability. There could be a case where you would need to leave the house from the upper floors or the roof, and such equipment would come in handy.

Get a fire extinguisher for your house and if possible, get a class K type for your kitchen to handle fires fuelled by grease. There are exits which you do not often use which could be because they are faulty. Get them fixed in readiness for an emergency or have them removed. Have your chimney cleaned regularly and the residue extracted to prevent chimney fires from occurring.

Be ready to move

Buy a fireproof bag and keep it in an accessible area in your room since you cannot know when you will need to leave in a hurry. It can have your clothes, a change of shoes, food, relevant documents and anything else you feel is necessary in the case of a fire.

Ensure that you get a bag that can resist all kinds of fires. In the case of a fire, you can get hold of your fireproof pack and make a safe exit. Where you are not in a position to get to the bag and doing so would mean going further into the house, leave it be. After all, it is fireproof and will be there once the fire is out.

Valuables

Many people often put themselves in risky situations in a bid to save their belongings when fires occur. Instead of putting yourself in such a position, prepare yourself by placing your prized possessions in a fireproof safe. Over time, people have come to appreciate just how important these devices are.

What to put in a fireproof safe

We will go through some of the most important things to have in your safe, and you can add yours to the list.

  • Contact information

Your insurance agent’s contacts, as well as your policy, should be here as you will require this data as soon as the fire is out.

  • Family records

Instead of going through the hassle of replacing identification documents, have all your family’s original files in the safe.

  • Medication

Make a list of the medicines you regularly use as well as the contacts of your pharmacists and doctors.

  • Hard drive

In this one, you can have all your photos and necessary documents for memory purposes.

  • Safety deposit keys

You will need a way to get hold of the valuables in your bank fast, and this is the best option.

  • Funds

All documents related to investments should be kept here as it is likely that you will need a source of money in the times that follow.

  • Finance documents

Keep records of your creditors and debtors to make sure that you protect your credit.

  • Social security cards

Make sure that you have the original documents as they come in handy when applying for aid.

  • Legal documents

Such documents provide you with the protection you will need should things go south.

Fire safety behaviors

Sometimes, fire occurs through our faults and you can avoid this by taking some safety precautions.

Children fire safety

Children are yet to develop a sense of fear as they have not lived long enough to know the dangers of some habits. Sometimes, a game of playing with matches results in devastating results such as burning down a house. As such, be sure to let your children know from an early age that fire is not a toy, but instead it is a tool with the ability to destroy.

To further protect them from fire, keep matchsticks, lighters and any other fire devices out of reach of children.

Cooking

Some fires occur when unattended food catches fire, and the flame spreads to nearby materials, eventually spreading to the house. The thing with kitchen fires is that they grow fast, given that most foods have oil which in turn fuels the fire quickly.

If you have no plan to stay in the kitchen the whole time the food is cooking, do not start making something. Instead, opt to cook when you can divert all your attention to the fire.

Smoking in the house

Sometimes you may leave a cigarette butt on the floor or some other surface in the house, thinking that you completely put out the flame only for the butt to set the house ablaze. Always ensure that you dispose of the butt outside for safety purposes or better yet, smoke outside in totality.

Frayed wires

You have probably heard stories where a fire occurred as a result of faulty electric wires. Keep this from taking place by getting rid of any electronics with frayed wires. Get any loose electrical fittings fixed as soon as they occur.

Candles

As is the case with food, never leave a candle unattended as it could easily topple over and light something on fire, thus leading to a house fire. Other valuable tips are to ensure that you always turn off the gas after use and opt for lighters over matchsticks.

Fire can have very devastating results, and it is always best to stay prepared for such an occurrence. Keep in mind that everything else is secondary to the safe exit of you and your loved ones.