By Lt Col Wally Jaynes, Hawaii Wing Director of Safety. Photos by C/CMSgt Jessica Cogan, Hawaii Wing Public Affairs Cadet NCO.

What is the most important thing we should know about fire safety?


Fight or run?  Unless you have a good and current fire extinguisher very near to where you are at the time of fire discovery, and you know how to use it, and the fire is very small and containable, RUN! Think fast – are there others in the structure where you are at the time that you discover the fire?

 YELL, YELL, YELL, as you are going out of the door. LET OTHERS KNOW!

Have a plan. Know your surroundings and be aware of the most expedient way out. A small fire can accelerate sometimes at an amazing rate. So don’t look around, just get out and stay out. And close doors behind you as you leave to slow the advance of the fire.

It’s important that your exit routes do not lead to a closed-in area that would prevent escape away from your home, or workplace, like a gated courtyard. It’s best that any gates or fences can be easily unlocked or unlatched from inside.

Make sure everyone in your household knows how to unlock or unlatch any doors, windows, gates, or fences. Routinely inspect any and all of these potential obstacles to be sure they will actually provide a means of escape in the event of a fire and not become a blockade.

Practice your plan every few months, including at night, which is when fires are most deadly since it’s more difficult to find a safe exit. Include your family or co-workers. And have a safe-haven location that all know about for everyone to assemble outside, for a head count to be sure now one is left behind.

At this point I will not tell you whether or not you should be a hero. This is a personal element that cannot be assigned. If you decide to run into the fire area to save a person or a loved one, trying to stop you probably would not work. People are all different in this aspect. That is why heroes exist. But the wisest thing one can do in the event of a structure fire is to EVACUATE, and stay out.

If there is a lot of smoke, get down on your hands and knees and crawl out. Why? Because smoke is hot and rises rapidly. Superheated smoke can paralyze your breathing ability almost instantly. You can find clearer and cooler air closer to the floor. Smoke inhalation can cause you to lose consciousness, also, the freshest air will be closest to the ground since smoke and toxic chemicals rise. In addition, staying low below smoke will increase your ability to clearly see your escape path. If a window breaks, your situation just got worse, more oxygen just gave the fire a new breath and acceleration. Hurry!

If there is a lot of smoke…
…get down on your hands and knees and crawl out.

What about toxic chemical smoke?  Ask any firefighter he/she will tell you that almost all structural fires are toxic. Smoke from carpet, upholstery and other mane made items all produce toxic smoke.

Feel doors to see if they’re hot. Never open a door if the door or doorknob feels hot. That means there is most likely a fire behind on the other side, and opening the door will put you in danger and fuel the fire with oxygen. If your primary means of escape is blocked by a hot doorknob or other obvious sign of fire, find an alternate route or a window. 

  • Use the back of your hand to feel doorknobs, rather than your palm. The thinner skin on the back of your hand is more sensitive to heat, so you’ll notice heat before getting burned.
  • Open any doors you come across slowly and be prepared to quickly shut it in case you encounter fire or smoke.
Use the back of your hand to feel doorknobs, rather than your palm.

Do you have to run through the fire to escape? This is the worst case scenario, but sometime it is the only way. If you are near a bathroom, or any other major water source, like a fish pond, jump into the water or shower and drench yourself with water from head to foot. Don’t take a lot of time doing this as the longer you take, your chances of survival go down seconds count, just get out. SECOND’S COUNT, JUST GET OUT! Please note that is my idea and with talking with a Fire Engineer he said that he had never heard of such a thing, but would you rather run through a fire bone dry or soaking wet?

The residential portion of the fire problem continues to account for the vast majority of civilian casualties. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates show that, while residential structure fires account for only 25 percent of fires nationwide, they account for a disproportionate share of losses: 83 percent of fire deaths, 77 percent of fire injuries, and 64 percent of direct dollar losses.

Un-attended cooking has been the leading cause of residential fires for most of the years since the inception of National Fire Incident Reporting Data. Thirty five percent of all residential fires resulted from cooking in 2015. So this tells you where you should keep your fire extinguishers. In the kitchen, but a safe distance away from the cooking area. You don’t want to reach under the stove top for an extinguisher when the fire is on the stove top.

 Clothes dryers are also a large percentage of residential fires. Don’t leave home if your clothes dryer is running. And check the filters as prescribed in your owner’s manual and especially the vent tube for lint build up at least twice a year.

The garage if attached to the house can also be a problem. If a fire erupts in your garage, do not open the garage door. If you intend to fight the garage fire, do so from outside. Look for any small opening such as a broken window and set your garden hose nozzle on fine spray and shove it into the garage and THEN get away from it. This procedure will help to suppress a fire much better than trying to wash away the flames with a full running water hose and further exposing you self to danger.

The second floor! So you live in a two story home and sleep upstairs. And of course your kitchen is down stairs. The scenario: You are sound asleep in your cozy second story bedroom. But something was left on in the kitchen. Something starts to smolder (don’t you wish that you had replaced the old batteries in your smoke alarms? You do have smoke alarms, right?) Either way, that smoldering item in the kitchen has now ignited a nearby item which has also started an inferno downstairs. Your stair way down to the first floor is filled with smoke and you see some flames. This scenario is going downhill fast, but you are not going down stairs! First thing to do! Put on some shoes, unless you like walking on hot coals. (It has been proven that people that have taken off their shoes or are wearing sandals are for more likely to perish in an incendiary automobile or airplane crash). So running around a house fire bare footed is also not a good idea either.

Secondly, have a means of escape from a second floor residence without having to use the stairway. Use your ingenuity by making your own escape ladder or go on-line and check out items such as the Kidde KL-2S Two-Story Fire Escape Ladder with Anti-Slip Rungs, 13-Foot model or any other escape ladder from the wide array of such items listed the internet.  Home Depot also advertises Fire Escape Ladders starting at just $39.00.

If you have elderly or handicapped living in your home, common sense should convince you to have a second, preferably exterior stairway attached to the structure.

If you are totally trapped in a room, stuff a towel of similar fabric, preferably a wet one, under the door, and hang a towel out of the window of the room that you are trapped in. This is a universal signal to professional firefighters that someone is trapped and they will immediately respond.

This is a universal signal to professional firefighters that someone is trapped.

Finally, you may have noticed the term “common sense” used in this briefing. It is a valuable commodity especially in an emergency.

Do Not Panic! Panic loses most of your ability to perform in a sensible manner and could cost you your life.



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