It was early in the morning on the 26th of January 2005 when my wife awoke to the banshee-like scream of our smoke detectors going off. She jumped out of bed and ran out to the living room, where I had fallen asleep on the couch and screamed my name.
She screamed several more times and shook me before I woke up. By the time the smoke detectors went off I had been overcome by the smoke billowing up from the basement where the fire started. My wife was in the bedroom with the door closed - an additional barrier between her and the dense smoke.
Once I came to my senses, I tried to get down to the basement three different times but was beaten back by the smoky, red hot flaming pit of hell that was now erupting from our basement. By the time I gave up trying to get to the basement my nostrils were completely clogged by the ash that I had breathed in, and I was coughing up black sputum the consistency of honey.
During this time frame my wife collected one of our two cats and called 911. We couldn't find the other cat before we evacuated the house. He showed up later in the day and we were able to determine that he had spent the entire time in the basement with the fire. We thought he had escaped outside. He used up several of his nine lives and transformed himself from a hyper, nervous kitty to a cool, calm and collected cat. He takes everything in stride now.
It was only a matter of minutes, but seemed like an eternity before the fire trucks arrived to put the fire out.
Smoke detectors saved our lives. Prior to the fire, we had a practice in place that saw us change the batteries and perform a "press to check the enunciators test" at least every month. That practice saved our lives as well with at least three of five detectors triggering during the fire. The other two - located in the basement - had probably triggered but were destroyed by the intensity of the fire.
Smoke detectors must be kept in tip-top working order to assure the best possible chance of operating correctly during a fire. If we had not had the practice in place, I would probably be dead now and there is a good chance my wife would be dead, too. The on scene commander from the Seattle Fire Department told me that in many cases like this they remove cadavers rather than have a conversation with the occupants of the residence. Yes, smoke detectors definitely saved our lives, and they can save yours, too.
Home fires can happen in an instant and without warning. By the time we were aware of the fire, it was too late to attempt to put it out with a hand held fire extinguisher. However, you should have a fire extinguisher easily accessible so that you can at least attempt to put out a fire when it starts.
There is no set recommendation for the number of fire extinguishers in a house. That said, the Seattle Fire Department suggests at least one extinguisher per story placed so that they are easily accessible in the event of a fire and that they be replaced every 10 years. As a minimum you should have 2A10BC extinguishers in your home.
These are the average size that you see in most big buildings and apartment complexes and can be used on most fires that occur in the home. Use no extinguisher smaller than a 2A10BC.
Steven James Lynch is president of Alcazar Security. If you would like to know more, please give him a call at 206 245 8131 or send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE SEATTLE FIRE DEPARTMENT'S HOME SAFETY CHECKLIST
1) Make sure baseboard and portable heaters are located away from anything that can burn, like furniture, curtains, papers and clothing.
2) Is your fireplace equipped with a sturdy metal screen? Check that your chimney is inspected before cold weather arrives, and make repairs as needed.
3) Use extension cords and multi-plug adapters as little as possible. Do not tack extension cords to walls, run them beneath rugs or pass them through doorways.
4) Never leave food unattended while it's cooking on the stove or in the oven. If you do need to leave the kitchen for a short time, set a timer or take something with you to remind you that you need to get back to the kitchen.
5) Keep your stove and oven clean of grease and spilled food. If a grease fire does occur, it's most effectively put out by snuffing the flames with a lid.
6) Do not have matches, lighters and or other fire starting/smoking materials out of reach of children. Keep such items in a locked cabinet.
7) Place candles in holders that will not tip over before you light them, and keep them out of reach of children. Before you leave the room or go to bed, make sure you extinguish all candles.
8) Don't smoke in bed. Drowsy or medicated people may forget they are handling lit materials and may start a fire.
9) Pick a memorable date to install new batteries in your smoke alarms once a year. Test the alarms once a month to make sure they're working properly.
10) Be sure your family knows what to do if there is a fire in your home. Prepare an escape plan, and host a regular home fire drill so your family can practice their escape routes.
Discussing how to respond to an emergency can help greatly to reduce fear in your family members, especially young ones, in case there is a fire.
It is critical that everyone in your home recognizes the sound of a smoke alarm and knows two safe ways out of each room. Remember, when a smoke alarm sounds, every second counts.