Director, UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute
The pace at which a fire races through a home has increased at a dramatic and deadly rate. About 40 years ago, people had an average of 17 minutes to escape a burning home after the activation of a smoke alarm. Today, that window has shrunk to about three minutes or less. Natural furnishings and building materials have given way to synthetics, which burn much faster. Combine that with the popularity of open floor plans, and it becomes the perfect habitat for an escalating fire.
The UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) found that in the event of a fire, rooms with closed doors had average temperatures of less than 100 degrees and 100 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide, compared to rooms with open doors that had over 1,000 degrees and over 10,000 ppm of carbon monoxide.
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia has seen firsthand the life-saving power of a closed door. One evening, a call came in for an active fire. As firefighters worked to extinguish the fire and conducted a search inside the home, they were surprised to find a child behind a closed bedroom door.
“The smoke was thick, and the fire was moving quickly throughout the home,” recalls Kyle Ballinger, a Fairfax firefighter. “We were working through our search when we heard someone knocking on a closed door, calling for help. I was able to open the door and she jumped in my arms. Her room was clear of smoke and she didn’t appear to have any effects from smoke inhalation, the heat, or flames. We were able to rescue her because of her closed door. It gave us the time we needed to arrive and find her. If it wasn’t for that closed door, there would have been a very different ending to this story.”
House fire safety
At UL FSRI, we want families to make sure they close all of their doors – bedrooms, bathrooms, and basement – at night in order to starve any potential fire of the oxygen it requires to grow.
To increase your chances of survival during a fast-moving house fire, we suggest the following:
- Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working condition. Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area. Install alarms on every level of the home. Smoke alarms should be interconnected. When one sounds, they all sound. Test them monthly.
- Close your doors at night.
- If a fire ignites and you can get out of the burning structure, do so quickly and close every door behind you as you exit. If you can, put a closed door between you and the fire to buy yourself valuable time. Don’t ever go back inside a burning home.
- For parents worried about hearing their child through a closed door, place a baby monitor in the child’s room. If you can’t get to their room because you’re cut off by smoke, know that the closed door will provide a safety barrier, giving them more time for help to arrive.
- Have an escape plan. Identify multiple escape routes from every room and practice them as a family.
After a fire starts, there’s very little time to act. Take these fire safety and prevention steps today, and you’ll sleep easier at night.
Steve Kerber, Director, UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute, [email protected]