If A Fire Strikes ... Escape Fast!

By The Old House Web

Most of us would answer yes, thinking of fire in the movies.Unfortunately, fire does not live up to these expectations.

Asthrilling as the idea of crashing into a burning building to savesomeone may sound, in reality, this would kill you in just minutes.Since heated air rises, temperatures increase about 100 F every foot.So, at six feet up, the temperature would be 600 F. At thesetemperatures a person can be instantly burned to death.

The smokeproduced by fire is not like fog as it appears in the movies. Youcannot see through the smoke, and the lack of oxygen will swiftlyovercome a person. Also, the smoke from a fire can asphyxiate youbefore you smell it. Don't rely on your nose; rely on well-kept smokedetectors.

Every year about 6,000 people die in fires in their homes.Many home fires start in areas where they may block main exits. Forinstance, the most likely room in the house for a fire is thekitchen. There were more than 3,000 kitchen fires in Ohio alone in1989. Frighteningly enough, the bedroom is the third most likelyplace for fire to start, and most home fires start between eight p.m.and eight a.m.

When fire attacks, your home can become a death trap.Heat rises, and smoke and deadly gases can race ahead of flames,paralyzing a sleeping person.

Mistakes Cost Lives: Plan Ahead

  • Plan your escape routes from each room. Drill periodically.
  • Sleep with doors closed. This can help keep fire from spreading.
  • Have fully functional smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.
  • Escape ladders for second floors are vital.

Fire Escape Planning

Make floor plans with two escape routes per room.

  1. Make anoutline of the entire floor area. Include furniture positions ifdesired.
  2. Label bedrooms.
  3. Locate windows, doors and stairways.For upper floor plans, shade in any rooftop that could be used as afire escape.
  4. Go to each bedroom. Select the best window for anemergency escape.
  5. Test the window to see that it works easily,especially in children's rooms. Make sure everyone can fit throughthe window, and that it is low enough for easy access.
  6. Use blackarrows on the floor plan to show normal exits through halls orstairways.
  7. Use colored arrows to show emergency exits in casethese normal escape routes are blocked by fire.

Be sure everyone has at least one, preferably two, escape routes.Escape ladders should be installed on the second floor. Considerrearranging furniture to provide clear passage, or cutting an accessdoor between bedrooms. Parents may want to put children in rooms witheasy rooftop escape routes.


  • Gather your family together for a short drill from time to time. Thisprevents panic in the few key minutes available to escape. Cover thefollowing points:

  • Always sleep with bedroom or hall doors closed. These can keep outfire long enough to allow escape through your emergency route.

  • Keep smoke detectors working. Test them monthly by holding a candleclose to them.

  • Don't waste time getting dressed or gathering valuables. You onlyhave one or two minutes before succumbing to smoke inhalation.

  • Test doors before opening. Put the back of your hand against thedoor. If it is hot, or if smoke is coming through the cracks, don'topen it. If the door is cool and seems safe, open it cautiously bybracing your shoulder against it and keeping your head to one side toavoid breathing any sudden smoke. Be ready to slam the door shut ifyou see smoke or heat rushes in.

  • Arrange a meeting place outside. This way missing persons can bedetermined immediately. Never reenter a burning building. A fewbreaths of smoke can kill you.

  • Never stand up when a fire alarm sounds. Drop to the floor and crawlto your emergency exit. Temperatures above the two-foot level couldinstantly burn you.

  • When everyone is out, notify the fire department from a neighbor'shouse. Do not call from inside a building that is on fire.


Frank Field,"Could Your Family Survive a Fire?" Reader's Digest, V135 (October, 1989), 137-140.

Statistics from B. Chandler, Department of Fire Prevention, State FireMarshal.

Acknowledgments to Michelle L. Wallingford for her contributions tothis publication.

Reviewed by Drs. Erdal Ozkan and Harold Keener, Department ofAgricultural Engineering, and Dr. Judy Wessel, Department of FamilyResource Management.

Funded in whole or in part from Grant Number U05/CCU506070-03,"Cooperative Agreement Program for Agricultural Health PromotionSystems," National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extensionare available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regardto race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin,gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 andJune 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture,Keith L. Smith, Director, Ohio State University Extension.

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