At home

How to escape a house fire

Prevention is as important as escape routes, meeting places and knowing what to do in the event of a fire at home.

By Donna Fleming
Every year more than 20,000 fires are attended by the New Zealand Fire Service, including nearly 5,000 house fires. Typically there are 38 fire deaths, 20 of which are the result of "accidental house fires".
It is vital to have a plan for your household and to make sure that everyone old enough to understand instructions knows what to do.

Make sure everyone knows to do the following

• Get out of the building and away from the fire as fast as you can, if possible. Don't worry about your possessions – spending vital seconds looking for them could cost you your life. Don't try to fight the fire yourself, get out and leave that to the fire service.
• Smoke inhalation causes more deaths than being burnt by flames. Get down on your hands and knees and crawl out of the building. Smoke rises, so the lower you can get, the easier it will be to breathe. Cover your nose and mouth with clothing or some other type of material and, if possible, wet that material.
• Make sure you have worked out the quickest and easiest way out. Smoke makes it very difficult to see, so knowing how many corners you need to go around and what furniture you will pass on your route helps. If you can, close doors behind you to prevent the fire from spreading.
• Always keep keys in doors that need to be unlocked. The same applies to windows – if they have safety locks that can only be opened with a normal key or an Allen key, make sure those are handy and you know how to use them.
• If you are in a room with a closed door, feel it with the back of your hand before exiting. If it is hot, don't open it – the fire is right outside. Similarly, if smoke is coming in under the door, don't open it. Try to block the gap under the door with bedding, clothes or towels and open the window. Do not open a window if the door is open.
• If you can't get out of the window, do something to attract people's attention, such as waving a large piece of clothing out the window and shouting. If you have your phone with you, call 111 and let the fire service know where you are trapped.
• Have a designated meeting place outside and make sure you go there. People have died going back into a house to find someone, not realising they had already made it outside.
• Make sure children know not to hide in a cupboard or under the bed – firefighters will have a hard time finding them.
• If your clothes catch fire, don't forget to stop, drop and roll.
• If you live in an apartment building, check the building's policy regarding fire evacuation. Always use the stairs, not the lift, and have an evacuation drill, noting how far it is to the fire exit.
• Never go back into a burning building. Leave that to the professionals.
Earlier this year, the New Zealand Fire Service launched a world-first – a virtual reality video experience that lets you feel what it is like to be in a burning house and why you need to have an escape plan. See escapemyhouse.co.nz or watch the walk through video below.

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