We’ve all thought about it, we’ve all heard the warnings to replace smoke detectors. Countless fire drills/alarms at school and work. We’ve all been a part of Fire Prevention Week, either as a parent or a child. But are any of us listening?

I’ve been in the fire service for 10 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that there is no such thing as being “overly-prepared.”  But that’s for me as a firefighter. What about civilians? How can a civilian prepare for a fire?

Separation from the source

First things first: get away from the fire! This seems pretty obvious; however when the shit hits the fan, people will be scrambling everywhere & anywhere. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. And get away from the fire. This could be as simple as closing a door or getting to the other side of the hallway. Once you create a space between the fire and yourself, your chances of survival skyrocket.

Second: now that you’re temporarily safe (yes, fires can move through closed doors), you have two choices. Stay put, or escape. How do you decide which? This is where situational awareness comes into play. Are you at your office, where you’ve worked for three years? You should know the emergency exit route. Are you in a mall that you’ve never been to? Are you in an airport? This makes evacuation less clear. If you are able to safely identify a route out of the building, take everyone you are with and GET OUT! However, if you have no idea where you are, the last thing you want to do is get even more lost. Just remember, you have no idea what could be on the other side of a door, but a window is quite transparent! Find a window. What is outside of it? What floor are you on? Can you signal for help from people outside? Could you make the jump if you really needed to?

Escape from the building

Third, find water! Not to put on the fire, however; chances are you’re beyond that. However, a handkerchief/shirt sleeve soaked in water can serve as a sufficient “SCBA” (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) during your escape. Not only will this filter out some of the toxins in the air, but it will also cool the air you breathe. Scorched lungs sound awful. Know where the water fountain/sinks are. Keep a water bottle in your desk/purse.

Fourth, and most importantly: STAY LOW! Heat rises…I’ve seen pretty much every episode of “Rescue Me” plus “Backdraft,” and if you have too, you’ll know that these guys walk around in a fire. No masks, no gloves. NONSENSE. Stay as low as possible. Not only will you be avoiding extreme heat and carcinogens, but you will be able to see! In a fully involved fire, the difference in visibility between 6” off the floor, and 18” off the floor is incredible. Try and keep yourself to a low crawl, and ensure others are doing the same.