One firefighter lists the do’s and don’ts to fire safety
originally published in Good Housekeeping, April 2004, page 112
When it comes to fires, this year got off to a blazing start: the first 15 days of 2004 saw Metro Manila suffering a succession of fires, mostly in residential areas.
Most fires are caused by negligence, such as leaving burning candles or plugged-in appliances unattended. Prevention, says Chuck Chua, president and fire chief of the San Andres Volunteer Fire brigade, is still key. He offers advice on staying fire-free.
- Have a fire exit. When designing and building your home, make sure it conforms to fire and building codes. Is there a fire escape or a window exit? your window may be barred but make sure the grills have an access point with the padlock key hung nearby.
- Have a plan. Establish an escape route, a meeting point, and a roll call or buddy system. To remain effective, conduct a fire drill to familiarize your family on the fastest and safest ways out.
- Prepare an emergency bag. Keep important documents (like passports, land titles, bank papers, etc.) in a yellow or orange carry-all. If you must evacuate, the bright-colored bag can be easily spotted and carried out.
- Regularly check and maintain electrical wirings, as well as LPG tanks, stoves and stove valves — the last three in order to prevent gas leaks.
- Post emergency numbers beside each of your telephones at home to make it easy to report a blaze. When calling in, give the exact location of the fire, your complete address and the nearest corner or any landmarks.
Of course, a fire could still break out despite your best precautions. What should you do if you get caught in one?
Don’t panic is Chua’s first rule. Just calmly follow the procedure you and your family have agreed on. More valuable tips from Chua:
- Evacuate immediately. Make sure to alert everybody by shouting “Fire!”
- Watch where you go. Before opening a door, check for heat using the back of your palm. If the knob is cool enough to touch, it’s safe to open. If the corridor is starting to fill with smoke, crawl out to the nearest exit. The space between the floor and the smoke offers some breathable air. Use a piece of cloth to cover your nose and mouth to keep you from inhaling the smoke.
- If the door is hot to the touch, do not open it — the fire may already be on the other side. use a wet towel or blanket to block the base of the door and bar any smoke. Stay near the windows and scream or do whatever it takes to call the attention of firefighters and rescuers.
- Just leave your things. When you have successfully escaped a burning house, do not return for anything. Lives are top priority, not material things.
- Do a head count. In case a family member is missing, inform the firefighters as soon as they arrive, explain in detail the ins and outs of your house, and let the firefighters do their job.
The San Andres Manila Volunteer Fire Brigade is a member of the Association of Volunteer Fire Chiefs and Firefighters of the Philippines, Inc. Their hotline, open 24/7, is 16-0-16.