Once the snow starts to fall, a whole new set of 911 calls begin at the ambulance I work at. Instead of worrying how we’re going to carry a 300 lb. person down 467 stone steps in the local gorge, we start to worry about getting a person out of their car that’s upside down in the icy creek, or the hunter that’s lost in the sub zero degree weather. In many instances, winter emergencies can be more dangerous than emergencies that happen in other times of the year simply because there isn’t as much light, travel isn’t as easy, and the cold is a very real enemy. While we all hope that our family is never the one affected, sometimes it is, and it’s best to be prepared. This is the second in a two part series dealing with the two major emergencies seen in winter and will focus on house fires.
The rate of house fires increases during the winter because more heating devices are in use and are often not kept up to standard, thus increasing the risk of catching fire. While most of the time house fires can be prevented, they still do happen and cause great damage when they do. Preparation is the biggest key to preventing and surviving a house fire, so use this guide to make sure that your family will be safe in case it happens to you.
Before a fire begins
- Make sure your house number is VERY visible on both your home and mailbox. So many times, we are delayed in reaching a medical patient or a burning building because we can’t see the house number!
- Buy home insurance and correctly install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms throughout your home.
- Once a year, go through your home with a video camera so you can know what you had for insurance purposes. Store this video along with other important documents and valuables in a fire proof safe. Place the safe in a particular corner of your basement so that you would be able to find it amidst debris.
- Copy precious family photos onto a CDrom disc and into that safe.
- Practice crawling under the smoke, leaving the home, and going to a predetermined safe location with your entire family.
- Keep your shoes near your bed. I have gone to many fires where the family had to stand outside in the snow without shoes on. Just make sure you put them on after you’re outside where it’s safe instead of taking the time to do it inside before you leave.
- Keep your home free of major clutter, and stack papers tightly. This will help the firefighters navigate through your home easier, and will also decrease the “fire load”, or amount of things in a room that can catch fire. Since oxygen is required for something to burn, tightly stacking things or putting them into containers will buy you more time before they will catch fire.
During and After a fire:
- Get everyone out safely and don’t go back in. Yes, we’ve heard that a lot of times, but a lot of people also break the rule.
- Tell the fire department as soon as they arrive that everyone’s out, and if there are any pets or firearms/ammunition inside. Also tell them how the fire started and its location (if you know).
- Find a warm and dry place to stay while the fire’s being put out.
- Call a friend to go buy sandwiches and hot drinks for the firefighters. Trust me, they’re going to be there for hours, probably aren’t getting paid, and really appreciate free food.
- Remember that possessions can be replaced.