Most people don’t like to think about how they’d handle their home or building igniting because it’s a such a terrifying proposition, but you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand. You need an actionable plan for how to escape a fire. What should you do?
Here’s how to actually escape a fire:
- Make a fire preparedness plan
- Plan two exits for every room in the house
- Come up with an escape method for upper floors
- Take stairs instead of elevators
- Shout out your location
- Check doors before you open them
- Practice your plan
I know, it all seems so simple on the surface, but you’d be surprised by how many people blank at the sight of a fire and completely forget everything they’ve learned. This guide will tell you how to escape whether it’s a house fire or a building fire at work.
Table of Contents
Make a Fire Preparedness Plan
Fire preparedness plans are not something you do in grade school only to abandon the concept for the rest of your life.
Families, it’s up to Mom and Dad to create a fire preparedness plan for you and the kids to adhere to.
If you’re a part of a business, then it’s a good idea to drop into your boss or manager’s office and ask them what kind of fire preparedness plan they have. Then ask them the last time it’s been updated.
You want to keep the plan current. Anytime you move into a new home or office, you need to create a new plan from scratch. The old plan accommodates for the former layout so it’s no longer applicable.
Even if you don’t move but you remodel, you still need to update your plan. After all, if you add a new wing to your home or office building but have no fire preparedness, then that’s bad news for whoever occupies that space!
A fire preparedness plan is a clear outline of how you and your family or colleagues can escape if a fire occurs. I’ll delve into the components of the plan for much of the rest of this guide!
Also, if you’ve ever wanted to know some things you should never do in a fire, here’s a list I wrote of 11 things to never do in a fire.
Plan Two Exits for Every Room in the House
Heat rises, which you probably already knew, but did you know that smoke also rises?
This can leave you with a very limited amount of time to get out of a room before the smoke can become so blinding and choking that you’re stranded.
Here’s what I recommend. For any room in your home or office building, you need to find two areas that make for a conceivable exit point.
Doors are the most obvious ones, but what else can you use? Maybe a window or a crawlspace?
The area should be accessible enough on its own that you’re not wasting precious time making it accessible.
In other words, while you could climb through your office’s ductwork system (depending on their size), but you’d have to remove the grates first.
In a fire, every second counts. You cannot waste precious time on a task that might ultimately fail, as it can cost you your life in the end.
That’s why you need two exit points, so if one gets blocked off or is otherwise inaccessible, you don’t waste time you don’t have trying to come up with an exit plan.
You can quickly make your exit out of the room one way or another.
Come up with an Escape Method for Upper Floors
Escaping out of a building that’s single-story is relatively easy, as there’s no risk of having to jump or climb.
Many office complexes are multistory buildings though. For years, the trend in homebuilding has been two stories over one story, as which homeowner wouldn’t want more space?
Having space is great, but how do you escape from a second-story bedroom, a third-story converted home office, or a 10th-story office complex?
The answer, as I’ll talk about in just a moment, is not to use an elevator! You’ll need a different plan of action, sorry.
You might be able to makeshift some sheets to climb down or even use a rope depending on the room and what it’s being used for.
If you don’t know what to do because you can’t see a conceivable way out, do not open the window. You’re introducing oxygen to the fire, which will only make it more severe.
Don’t try to jump either, especially if you’re not sure if you can survive the jump.
Instead, try to exit the room and find a staircase rather than linger where there is no possibility for escape.
Take Stairs Instead of Elevators
This next tip only applies to those in commercial buildings that are on fire, but it’s such an important tip.
I know your first inclination in a fire is going to be to hop on the elevator and ride it safely to the bottom.
Riding an elevator during a fire is so risky for a multitude of reasons.
For one, if you’re thinking you’ll take the elevator to the ground floor, so is everyone else in your office building, and yes, I do mean everyone.
They’ll crowd the elevators and create a dangerous situation. If not that, then you could be shut out.
All that is assuming that the elevators are even in working order. The fire could have shorted the elevators so they can’t transport anyone.
Even if the elevators are working right this second, they could stop at any time. It would be very difficult for the fire department to rescue you in a stuck elevator. You’re also making their jobs harder, which could impede rescue efforts.
Instead of banking on the elevator, make a beeline for the closest stairs.
Will the stairs be jam-packed? You betcha. However, stairs aren’t going to stop working like an elevator can.
That doesn’t mean a stairwell can’t catch fire and force you to have to redirect your route, but they’re a safer alternative to taking the elevator.
Just remember to keep things calm, orderly, and single-file and you’ll get to the bottom floor.
Shout Out Your Location
In a house fire, there are only so many spots your family can be in. You want to begin shouting to them to let them know there’s a fire in case they’re somehow not aware.
Don’t rely on fire alarms alone, as sometimes, it’s hard to hear them from certain parts of the house.
I don’t recommend shouting and screaming too much, as you’re using a lot of energy to do that. You could also end up inhaling smoke.
However, before the air gets too clogged with smoke, such as when a fire first begins, it’s fine to verbally relay your location to the others in your household and tell them where to go.
Check Doors Before You Open Them
I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but it seems like a good time to mention it again.
Although you’re going to want to rush out of the first door you see that you think can guide you to freedom–and that goes for both house fires and office fires–you have to take a moment and be smart.
You have no idea what’s behind that door. It could be an entry into the next part of the house or building so you can begin your evacuation plan, but the door can just as easily lead you deeper into the fire.
Once you open the door, sometimes it’s too late to take it back. You’ll be blasted by a strong wave of heat, smoke, and flames, which can disorient and even injure you.
Before you blindly open a door, put your hand up to the door and feel it. You don’t have to touch the door directly, only feel for heat with your palms open.
Trust me, if the door is giving on heat, you will know it without touching the door directly.
Do not open that door, as you’re going to walk into a worse situation than the one you’re in now. Use a window or an alternate mode of escape, as you’re supposed to have two options per room!
Practice Your Plan
Having a fire preparedness plan is only useful if you stay current on the information.
At least once per year, you and the family or your colleagues should have a fire drill. Imagine exactly how you’d handle the situation in a fire and then make your way out of the building.
You can even do this twice a year if you want!
Fire drills provide valuable information. Maybe you had thought that you could use a window to get out of a room, but the window doesn’t want to budge. Perhaps you had assumed that most of your colleagues would go for the staircase, but everyone tried for the elevator instead.
This is good to know! Now you can correct your mistakes when in a perfectly safe environment rather than in a life-or-death situation.
That’s why fire drills and practicing your fire escape plan is so very important.
As a firefighter, I’ve seen many fires, and you can’t always wait for the fire department to rescue you. At the first signs of fire, you need to evacuate, taking the stairs instead of an elevator.
I hope you keep the information in this guide in the back of your mind, as it just could save your life someday!