While we all know the dangers of an unwanted fire in your home, the numbers are staggering. A fire in your home can become untenable in less than three minutes. This is the amount of time you have to react and get out once a fire starts. That isn't much time. Preparation with safety items in your home and practice are the key to a safe survival.
We have to be faster than our parents. Back in 1975, the average time for a fire to become untenable was 17 minutes. We are now looking at an 82-percent difference in the time to escape. It isn't just the type of house you live in, but what you put inside of it.
The furniture of old was made largely of natural-based products. Today's furniture is synthetic-based, and our upholstered furniture and mattresses give off heat and smoke at a much faster rate. Polyurethane foam, making up our cushions and mattresses, is highly flammable.
The homes of the past dozen years have included a more open floor plan, allowing fire and smoke to travel easily inside the home. The building materials used are much thinner and lead to a faster burn-through and collapse.
Think about wooden blocks and dolls clothing made of scrap materials. Compare that to the plastic toys that are available in abundance today, and synthetic clothing for the dolls. Plastics are easy and economical to work with when making toys, but rarely do the manufacturers consider the high flammability of those products and the risk it puts to the families who buy them.
The good news is that we are not dying in the large numbers that we did back then. The development of smoke alarm technology, and its widespread use, have given most families the time they need to exit their home in case of an unwanted fire.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tells us that 96 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, which is encouraging. The sad news is that the majority of fire deaths occur in homes that do not have a smoke alarm, or the one(s) they have do not work, usually because of dead or missing batteries.
It may be difficult to go out and find toys and furnishings just like you had when you were a child to put in your home. Plastics and synthetics are here to stay, it seems.
We can only encourage you to have plenty of working smoke alarms in your home. Test them once a month, change the batteries every year, and practice a fire escape plan twice a year. This includes how to escape your home from every way out in case fire is blocking your primary exit. You also need to meet at the outside family meeting place to conduct a head count of family members. Once outside, call 911 and tell first arriving firefighters if everyone is out or not. Hurry and do this — you may not have much time!
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.