Fire safety: 4 simple changes that can save lives

One of the most important roles of local fire departments is to share critical information with residents that can mean the difference between life and death. There are simple things homeowners can do to prevent fires and protect their families if a fire does occur.

West Chester experiences about 25 structure fires each year and responds to about 4,600 medical emergencies. Fire calls are less prevalent nationally than they once were due, in part, to stricter building codes, home safety alarms and fire prevention education.

When fires do occur, however, they pose greater risks because of the hydrocarbon-based synthetic materials used in home furnishings. These materials burn faster and release toxins that can be deadly. The pace with which a fire races through a home has increased at a deadly rate. A person now has about three minutes from the start of a fire to safely escape. This is a dramatic change from 17 minutes, 40 years ago.

Synthetic materials and open floorplans that are so popular in today’s homes present the perfect storm for quick escalation of a fire.

October is Fire Prevention Month, and the critical life-saving message from the West Chester Fire Department is “Close Before You Doze.”

Rooms with closed doors during a fire had average temperatures of less than 100 degrees and 100 parts per million of carbon monoxide, compared to 1000-plus degrees and over 10,000 ppm carbon monoxide in open-door rooms. This is according to research by the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute.

As parents of young children it feels instinctual to leave bedroom doors open in order to hear our children if they need us, when in fact leaving the bedroom doors open creates the greatest risk for those we love. A closed door gives the occupant of the room time to prepare for escape or time to be rescued. The occupant will have oxygen to breath and will be protected from the fire’s heat.

Baby monitors are a valuable tool to ensure your children are OK, even with the door closed. If you’re unable to reach your child’s room in case of fire, the closed door will provide a safety barrier giving your child longer to survive.

The West Chester Fire Department asks all residents to take simple steps and change behaviors in order to protect their family.

• Close your doors at night.

• Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working condition. Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room and outside each sleeping area. Install alarms on every level of the home. Smoke alarms should be interconnected so when one sounds, they all sound. Test alarms every month.

• If fire strikes and you can escape the burning structure, get out and close doors behind you as you exit. If you can't escape on your own, put a closed door between you and the fire and use blankets, towels or rugs to block the gap between the floor and the door. This will buy you valuable time for escape/rescue.

• Have an escape plan, identify multiple escape routes from every room and practice them as a family during various hours of the day. Furnish your home with escape ladders for second-story windows.

Deadly fires can happen anywhere. Nationwide, there are about 2,500 civilian deaths by fire every year. West Chester’s last fire death was in November 2007 when three little girls were unable to escape their apartment during a fire. They were in a bedroom with the bedroom door open.

The West Chester Fire Department is here to serve and protect the community. We’ll be there when fire strikes, but preventing fires before they happen and providing information that can save your family when fire strikes is our mission.

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