Not Hollywood: the truth about fire escape planning

Jake Matthews
Chief of Fire Prevention
KMC Fire and Emergency Services

Close your eyes. Imagine you are sleeping soundly when blaring smoke alarms jolt you awake. What do you imagine happens next?

If you’re like many KMC residents, you’ll probably picture yourself jumping out of bed and walking through clouds of smoke, taking the time to gather the things you’d want to save from the flames.

If you imagined any part of that, it’s time you opened your eyes. 

I’ve been in the fire service for a number of years, and I can tell you from my own experience that a real fire is nothing like what you just imagined. Here’s the truth, from someone who’s been there: a real fire is hot, hotter than any heat you’ve ever experienced. Sure, it starts small, but it grows and spreads quickly.

The gases put off from the flames are poisonous. They’re also hot enough to burn your lungs. Take in enough of those gases and you’re dead. And then there’s the smoke that is put off from the flames. It’s thick and black and hot. It spreads quickly through the building, banking down from the ceiling to the floor; you won’t be able to see through it to find the doors or windows.
A real fire isn’t Hollywood; it’s hell. And a late-night fire is no time to realize you haven’t prepared and have no idea how to escape from it.

Every home needs a well-conceived, well-rehearsed fire escape plan – before a fire happens. My family has a plan and I hope every KMC family will soon have one too.

Oct. 8 to 14 is National Fire Prevention Week, an important annual educational commemoration that has been sponsored by the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association since 1922. What better time to remind local residents of the need to make a fire escape plan?

Not having a plan is a deadly mistake. NFPA estimates that 3,925 people died in fires in 2003 – including more than 3,000 in homes. Fire victims can tell you that knowing what to do before a fire and how to get out can be the deciding factor in whether or not you will survive. 

Here’s what you need to do: 
• Install working smoke alarms on every level and outside of each sleeping area. You can purchase additional battery operated smoke detectors on and off base (test monthly).
• Develop a fire escape plan that identifies two ways out of each room and a family meeting place outside.
• Make sure your plan allows for any special needs in your household.  If everyone knows what to do, everyone can get out quickly.
• Practice using the plan, at least twice a year. If everyone knows that everyone else is ready to exit quickly, no one will lose precious time trying to help someone who doesn’t need it.
• Some studies have shown that children may not wake to the sound of the smoke alarm. Know what your child will do before a fire occurs.
If the unthinkable happens, yell “Fire!  Everyone get out!” Move to your closest exit, and if you run into smoke, use another way out. If you must exit through a room with smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit. Don’t take time to pick up belongings; just get out and help others get out. Move fast but stay calm.

Sit down tonight and make a plan. Then take a few minutes to walk through your home and practice using the exits you’ve identified. Choose a meeting place and memorize our emergency number (112 from a commercial or DSN phone, and 117 from some Army phones) so you can call us once you get outside.

I’ve seen a lot of tragedy in my career and nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a family suffer when the loss could have been easily prevented. Take it from someone who knows. You need a plan.