Fire Protection 101, by Firefighter Charles

Fire protection is very important for the home.  Keeping protection around your home from fire is a very important practice.  Too many homes a year are destroyed to fires.  Too many people die each year from fire related deaths (Note: Most people die from smoke inhalation not the heat of the fire).  You should learn ways on how to prevent fires and learn method on how to fight fires.  Preventing fire will lessen your chance of a fire but learning how to fight a fire will lessen the damage to your home and keep your family alive. 

     Understanding The Beast:  First, you will need to understand the element of fire.  Fire works off of three components Oxygen, Heat, and Fuel.  This is called the Fire Triangle.  Fire needs all three components to come alive.  Take one of the components out and the fire dies.  If you have a grease fire and you put baking soda, flour, or even sugar (which is even messier) you take the oxygen away by smothering it.  If you have a propane fire and you shut off the propane tank, you take the fuel away.  If leave a pot on the stove and it begins to heat up, before it can burst into flames.  You take the pot off the stove, put it in the sink and run water over it.  You took the heat away.  All three components will cause a chain reaction to ignite a fire.  Stop the chain reaction and you stop the fire.

     Understanding The Fire Ground:  To fight or escape from fire you have to understand the conditions you might find yourself in:

Smoke:  Smoke can be anywhere from a light haze to black out conditions.  In blackout conditions you are going to have to solely rely on your sense of feel.  This is why I earlier recommend that you practice with blindfolds to simulate heavy smoke conditions.  The thicker the smoke the less viable air you can breath and the less you can see.  Most people die from smoke inhalation during a fire.  Smoke brings a lot of people to panic, which in turn makes them breath faster, flooding their own lungs with smoke.  People also panic at the fact that they can’t see during a fire.  In any smoke condition stay low.  Since smoke rises, there should be less smoke at the floor.
Fire:  You’ll smell or see smoke before you see the fire most of the times.  You’ll feel the heat of fire as well before you see the fire.  Fire can move really fast therefore you have to move faster.  Oxygen helps the fire move faster.  Opening a window to let the smoke out alleviate the smoke but it will also feed the fire.  In turn making the fire move faster.  Knowing what to do during a fire is very crucial.  It’s a matter of seconds, life and death.
Heat:  Staying low can keep you alive.  By staying low you can avoid the heat as well as the smoke.  Since heat rises there should be less heat at the ground.  This is why we are taught to crawl out of a fire or smoke condition.  If you happened to get lost in the smoke, you’ll have to use the sense of feel and touch.  The hotter it gets in your home the closer to the fire you are.  Therefore go opposite the fire if you can.  
Some fire departments have a Smoke House that allows kids and adults to crawl through a simulated fire conditions (minus the heat and fire).  A fog machine produces the smoke.  The house is black out for you to have to feel your way through.  It’s a great way for people to get an understanding of what a fire condition (somewhat) can be.

     Prevention:  A very basic prevention is being careful.  By being careful you should turn off your appliances after usage, blow out candles, do not leave oven mitts near an open flame, and keep space heaters away from flammable objects.  Another basic prevention is common sense.  By using common sense I mean never put a Christmas tree next to your chimney or a space heater, don’t fall asleep while smoking a cigarette, don’t over load a power strip or use a cheap extension cord, and never pour water on a grease fire.  Now, if being careful is not your thing and you have no common sense.  Buying a smoke detector and an extinguisher is your next best bet.

     Home Smoke Detectors:  Buying a smoke detector is a very easy process.  Go to any hardware store, Target, Wal-Mart, or K-Mart and you will find a smoke detector.  All smoke detectors are pretty much the same with a few small exceptions.  Some come with strobe lights.  Some come with voice alert.  Others come in a smoke and carbon monoxide combination.  Most importantly they come in two types Optical (photoelectric) or Ionization.  Ionization detectors are made to pick up small smoke particles.  They are cheaper than the photoelectric but are also faulty.  Some are sensitive to dust and or dust build up which will more than likely trip the alarm.  Optical or Photoelectric detectors are a light sensor that senses smoke particles breaking up the beam of light inside the detector, therefore setting off the alarm.  The downside to an Optical detector is that a fast moving fire might not be picked up as fast as on a Ionization detector.  I, myself am not a big fan of the combo detectors such as the carbon monoxide/smoke detectors.  Try and get two separate detectors if you can afford it.  Now, as far as placing a detector you should place it high on a wall or on the ceiling (which I prefer).  Depending on your home size, you should have one in the basement, living room (right above the base of the stairs), hallway, and each bedroom, if possible.  If you live in an apartment you should have one in the hallway and in each bedroom.

     Extinguishers:  This is probably one of the best weapons against fires you can possibly have.  Fire extinguishers are pressurized by air or nitrogen.  The extinguishing compound can either contain water, dry chemical, dry powder, and or foam.  Fire extinguishers come in four different classes to combat four different classes of fire.  Class A fires are ordinary combustible solids.  Class B fires are flammable liquids and gases.  Class C fires are energized electrical equipment.  Class D fires are combustible metals such as titanium, magnesium, potassium, uranium, lithium, and plutonium.  Now, there is Class K fires which is cooking oil and fats but that can also fall under Class B fires. 

     Now, the most common home extinguisher is the ABC extinguisher.  This extinguisher holds dry chemical (Monoammonium phosphate), which battles three classes of fires, Class A, B, and C fires.  As far as the size of the extinguisher to get you should go with a 5 lbs. to 10 lbs. extinguisher for the home and a 2 lbs. extinguisher for the kitchen (only).  A water extinguisher is very useful as well but you have to be able to identify the class of fire.  If you use a water extinguisher on a grease fire you will spread the fire.  If you use a water extinguisher on an energized electrical fire, you’ll get electrocuted.  Also in the extremely rare case that you use a water extinguisher on a metal fire, you can cause a steam explosion, which could burn you.  Water cans (extinguisher) are also heavy.  Water cans are only good for one class of fires, Class A fires.  Don’t forget to check your fire extinguisher once a month.

     Extinguishing The Fire:  Attacking the fire with extinguisher seems easy and it can be if done correctly.  You can actually attack a fire in the wrong manner.  You can waste every drop of water or dry chemical and not even darken the fire.  To attack a fire with a water can (extinguisher), pull the pin, squeeze the lever, point the nozzle at the fire and put your index finger partial over the nozzle.  By doing so will give the water a spray effect, which in turn covers more fire.  Start at the base of the fire and sweep from side to side.  To attack a fire with dry chemical, pull the pin, squeeze the lever, and sweep side to side at the base of the fire.  If it’s a grease fire don’t spray directly at the burning grease because you might splash the grease and spread the fire.  To attack the grease fire, spray slightly over the fire so that the dry chemical blanket the burning grease.  Then come down gently onto the fire to completely knock it down.  Never use a water extinguisher on a grease fire. Also, Remember P.A.S.S. (except for flammable liquid fires):

Pull Pin
Aim at base of fire
Squeeze the lever slowly
Sweep from side to side

     Other Extinguishing Methods:  Smothering techniques are another way of putting out the fire.  Like I stated before using baking soda, flour, salt, sugar, or a pot cover on a grease fire will smother the fire.  Turing a trash can upside down when there is a fire in it, will also smother the fire.  You can also use heavy blankets to smother fire.  Dampening the blanket first will make sure that the blanket doesn’t catch fire too easily.  There are fire blankets for sale, just research for the best one for you.  Fire Blankets are also great for extinguishing a person on fire.  The fire blanket won’t melt to the skin.  Don’t forget Stop, Drop, and Roll.  It is still an effective way to extinguisher a fire on a person.  When doing this method make sure if at all possible to do it in dirt, sand, or even a puddle of water.

     Fire Escape Ladders:  Escape ladders are great to have around.  Even though they do not protect you from fire.  They will aid you in escaping a fire.  Most of these are 2 to 3 stories long but I have seen a 5-story fire escape ladder.  Escape Ladders can weigh up to 25 pounds so they’re easy to handle.  They also hold up to 1,000 pounds depending on the maker.  With escape ladders you have to practice and get use to the wobbliness of the ladder.  Escape Ladders are drop ladders that you drop from your window in case the fire blocks off your first means of egress.

     Fire Escape Hoods:  These are great to have.  They are pretty pricey but worth their weight in gold.  These hoods allow you to breath in a smoky environment and some even protect you from extreme heat.  The hoods also have multi protection use as they also protect you from other toxic gases and radiation particles.  When practicing putting this on, make sure you Do Not Activate the filter by pulling off the paper or plastic tabs that block the filter’s airway.  If you do, the filter will be no good when you really need it.  Now, having an escape hood in an average size home might not be necessary.  The time it would take for you to put it on, you can already be at a window climbing down to safety or waving for help.  Although they can come in handy searching for loved one if need be or can buy you time in searching for a way out should you get lost in your own home.  Escape hoods are good for office buildings, apartment buildings or large homes.  The escape hood works, up to 1 hour.

     Fire Escape Plan:  You should have a well thought out fire escape plan.  You should have a couple of escape route from your home or apartment.  You should have a couple of meeting points as well.  For your escape route you should make sure your family knows how to get out through all exits.  Drill your family and yourself with blindfolds on.  Have them try to find their way out.  Get them use to the fact that in a fire they won’t be able to see a thing.  In the being of that drill just make sure that they can get to an exit.  When they get better at getting to an exit, start timing them.  Make sure that everyone in your family crawl out as the heat and smoke is going to push you to the floor anyway.  Once out of the fire home or building.  Make sure everyone knows where to meet.  Whether it’s a neighbor’s home, a light pole on the corner, or a park across the street.  Make sure it’s in the immediate area of the fire home or building.  NEVER go back in for pets or personal belongings.  Pets a lot of the times make their own way out and personal belongings can be obtained again.

     Fighting The Fire:  The first thing you want to consider is the size of the fire.  If it’s too large then you want to leave and let the professionals handle.  If it’s small or a medium size then you might want to consider fighting it.  To determine the size of the fire is to know how much of the area the fire is burning.  The rate of speed the fire is moving at also will be factor on whether or not to fight the fire.  Make sure you have a way to get out before engaging the fire.  If the fire is going to cut you exit off, just get out.  Always make sure the exit is at your back.  Make sure you have the proper extinguisher or adequate water supply before fighting the fire.  If all else fails just leave and let the professionals handle.  Remember to stay low.

In the end, you should hold fire drills and have everyone in the house on the same page.  Some fire services will drill with your family, send you brochures, and send you a DVD on how to plan for fire emergencies.  You can also look on-line and watch YouTube videos on how execute a proper fire drill.