Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stop, Drop & Go Low

I went to lunch today with some girlfriends.... We had a great time, swapping stories and swapping jokes...laughter is always good food for the soul.

During the course of the lunch, one of the girls mentioned that her uncle had been in an apartment fire this past Tuesday. He managed to escape with some minor injuries - smoke inhalation, irritation to the eyes - but he did lose his cat in the fire. She mentioned that after he had escaped, he went back in the burning apartment to attempt to save his wallet. I sat there, in disbelief - he could have done permanent damage to his lungs - or even been killed - all in an attempt to save a few pieces of plastic and a few dollar bills. Please, people- don't do that. Don't ever go back in. It's just not worth it.

She mentioned that the American Red Cross did not show up to assist him, which surprised her. There could be a couple of reasons for this, which I wanted to talk about here.

The Red Cross shows up at a fire after being contacted by the local fire department. We don't have scanners in our home, telling us that there's a fire going on - we're at the mercy of the firemen at the scene. In Kansas City alone, firefighters respond to nearly 60,000 requests - or 164 calls a day - on average. That's a lot of calls. After they have done what they need to do - saving lives, and extinguishing the fire - they will then ascertain whether we need to be called - or not. In this girl's uncle's case, he went to a local hospital for observation immediately after the fire. The Red Cross doesn't get called if the victims are at the hospital. That's because part of our job is talking with the victims - obtaining information - and if they're in the hospital, we're not going to go there. We respond to fires if there are no injuries.

Hannah also mentioned that during the course of her uncle's escape from the fire, he had said that his eyes 'shut' during the escape, leaving him blinded. This is a normal automatic reaction from our eyes in a fire...the eyes will literally close to protect you from the smoke, and you often can't get them open again. It's an involuntary defense mechanism. This is important to know - because this stresses the importance of knowing your fire escape route EVEN if you cannot SEE it! We often assume we'll be able to "see" our way out of a fire - and this is not always true.

Families need to practice, practice and practice their escape routes with their children - everyone needs to know it blindfolded. Seriously. Another thing - your children are taught at an early age that if they're on fire themselves, they're to do the "Stop, Drop and Roll" method to extinguish the flames. Well, if they are in a burning building and need to escape - teach them the "Stop, Drop and Go Low" method of escape. Drop to the floor to prevent as much smoke from damaging your lungs as possible, and crawl out as low to the floor as possible. Smoke rises - the best air will be close to the floor. Smoke is by far the biggest killer in a fire - firefighters rarely see a burned body. Toxic smoke from a smoldering fire can kill you in your sleep before flames are even visible.

Noise is the other thing most people do not expect in a fire. Fires are loud. In general, noise dramatically increases stress, and stress makes it harder to think and make decisions. Hence, the importance of practice.

Fires grow exponentially. Every 90 seconds, a fire roughly doubles in size. Flashovers, when the flammable smoke in the air ignites, thereby igniting everything in the room, usually occurs 5-8 minutes after the flames appear. At that point, the environment can no longer support human life.

Hannah's uncle was very lucky. He managed to feel his way out and survive...but not everyone does. Please, take the time to practice a fire escape route with your family. Turn off all the lights and practice in the dark. Have the children practice "Stop, drop and Go Low" - crawling out - so they remember to "drop and go low" to escape. Don't ever go back in for anything if you've escaped a fire. It's not worth it.

Be sure to do YOUR part today to save the world - have a fire drill in the next week with your family or your co-workers... it could save a life one day.


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