Fast, Hot, Dark, Deadly

Dear Reader

There comes a time during every pandemic when one resorts to the most mundane pursuits in search of even mild entertainment. For me, that time came today when I walked up and down the halls counting the fire extinguishers. How much do you know about fire safety, Dear Reader? If you’re like me, perhaps, only the basics—use the stairs not the elevator, don’t use water to put out a grease fire, never open a warm door, and (the old favorite) stop, drop, and roll. However, in my spur-of-the-moment quest to count fire extinguishers, I learned a lot more about residential fire safety that I’m sure you all could benefit from (or at least mildly amuse yourself with).

In the United States, the leading causes of apartment fires include cooking equipment, heating equipment, electrical wiring, candles, and arson (eep!). “According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 100,000 apartment fires occur each year across the US, killing over 400 people, causing more than 4,000 injuries, and costing $1.2 million in property damage annually.” According to the experts, residential buildings should take the following precautions to prevent fire-related incidents:

  • Install sprinklers in every unit
  • Install/ regularly inspect smoke alarms/ carbon monoxide detectors in every unit
  • Install building-wide fire alarms
  • Place readily accessible/ visible fire extinguishers on each floor

My building seems well (even over-) equipped with fire-safety mechanisms. Predictably, there are very many “EXIT” signs, multiple staircase exits, sprinklers, and smoke detectors. Additionally, by every stairwell, there is a fire alarm and on the opposite side of the door (within the stairwell) there is water access for hoses. Additionally, there are a set of fire doors in the middle of the longest corridor, which bisects the building in the event of fire. When the smoke alarms are triggered the doors are engaged and close automatically (without locking, of course!) to contain the fire to one side of the building. On each side of these fire doors is another hose hook up. Because these doors are meant to contain fires, it is logically advisable that residents proceed to the nearest fire exit, which in the case of my building, never means crossing through these protective doors.

On each floor of my building hangs 12 fire extinguishers, which means that there are about 3.5 fire extinguishers per unit (not counting those located in the management office and amenity spaces). Each extinguisher is stored in a clearly marked cabinet (expect for one curiously plain cabinet that is otherwise identical to the others…). All cabinets are located in spots no greater than 10 paces from any unit and have concise instructions about how to access the extinguisher. Additionally, in every hallway and stairwell are multiple emergency lights. I have never seen the lights used, which makes me think that these are not fire-safety related, rather related to a general power outage. Either way, it was an interesting find!

While I know that you all know the basics of fire safety, I think it is incumbent upon me to share the foundational pieces of advice as a part of this post. According to the Red Cross, it is important that everyone in your household is on the same page about fire safety. This means teaching kids about what to do in the event of a smoke alarm going off, the stop, drop, and roll procedure, and calling 911. Preventive measures include installing smoke alarms and inspecting them monthly (make sure the batteries still work!). In the home, it is important to make sure that wiring is in order, heating is inspected, hot appliances are not left unattended, damaged/ frayed cords are attended to, electrical sockets are not overloaded, and that stove tops are free from rags or any other flammable materials (in addition to many other helpful tips!).

I live in a building that has had its fair share of false alarms (most all of them occurring in the middle of the night!). Unfortunately, because an alarm usually is false in my building, residents do not always leave the units immediately. According to the Department of Homeland Security, a small flame can turn into a major fire in less than 30 seconds, in under two minutes a fire can become deadly, and in five minutes a residence can be engulfed in flames. Fires are fast, hot, dark (billowing, black smoke), and deadly, if you are not taking fire safety seriously, I hazard to guess you are underestimating their seismic power.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, we are spending much more time at home. We may be cooking more, installing our units with the newest tech, or, if you’re bored—perhaps, even literally playing with matches. It is important now more than ever that we all take the time to learn about how to keep our homes safe and have a plan in place for a fast escape.

I wish you all a safe and happy time at home!



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