Lessons from a Fire

April 20th, 2012

Last week, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker made headlines when he rescued his neighbour from a burning building.  Although an upstairs kitchen was already engulfed in flames, and the detective on his security detail tried to hold him back, Booker went into the fire to bring out a woman trapped on the other side.

The details of this dramatic story highlight some important points about fire safety.

1. What Booker did was, while commendable, extremely dangerous. Even firefighters must consider their own safety before attempting a rescue. Generally speaking, you are under no legal obligation to rescue anyone, but if you do start a rescue, you should do it with reasonable care.1

2. When Booker entered the kitchen, he choked on the smoke and dropped to the floor to breathe. Smoke inhalation is one of the greatest dangers in a fire. In any fire, the oxygen will be close to the ground. Crawl below the smoke.

3. Another resident had tried to put out the fire with water before the mayor went up. But he discovered water just seemed to make it worse. Kitchen fires often involve grease or electricity. In both cases, spraying water on the flames only spreads them. Here, the fire spread rapidly up the walls and across the ceiling, putting the structure in danger of collapsing.

To put out a small kitchen fire, cover it with a pot lid or pour baking soda on the flames. Better yet, have on hand a fire extinguisher suitable for residential cooking. Class A units work for ordinary combustibles, such as wood, fabric and paper. Class B handles flammable liquids, such as gasoline and oil grease. Class C extinguishers are for live electrical equipment, wiring, appliances etc. Class K extinguishers are for cooking appliances and fires that involve combustible cooking media, oils and fat.

Before you ever need a fire extinguisher, however, make sure you know how to use it (PASS):

  • Pull the pin
  • Aim the extinguisher
  • Squeeze or press the handle
  • Sweep the extinguisher nozzle from side to side

Of course, only use the fire extinguisher if you’re confident the fire is small enough to control. If the fire is not easily contained, back away and immediately evacuate the house. Call 9-1-1 from outside.

Whether a fire occurs in a home or commercial building, a properly installed and functioning sprinkler system is the quickest way to stop the flames. A fire can engulf a home within minutes.

For more information on fire protection systems for your home or business, visit Vancouver Fire and Security.

1. There are exceptions to this common-law concept. B.C. has a Good Samaritan Act which protects volunteer first-aiders (not professional first responders) from liability unless they are grossly negligent. Quebec’s Charter of Rights, however, recognizes the right of a person in peril to assistance. This blog does not address the moral or legal responsibilities of a potential rescuer, and should not be construed as legal advice.

 

Note: This blog discusses general safety and security topics. It is not intended to provide comprehensive advice or guidance. In all matters of personal safety and security, we encourage readers to research topics in depth and consult a security professional about specific concerns.


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