NASHVILLE – Many movies and TV shows depict actors engaging in dramatic acts of heroism, jumping through flames to save someone or something trapped in a fire. While these scenes can serve as great entertainment, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) wants to remind residents that in real life re-entering a burning building can have tragic, and often deadly, consequences.
Too many times, responding fire departments in Tennessee have seen injury or death occur because the resident re-entered a building that was on fire, either to attempt to rescue another person or pet, or to recover personal items. State fire data shows that between 2012 and 2016, 16 residents in Tennessee died in house fires due to re-entering the structure after they had escaped.
“The safest option for anyone inside a building that is on fire is to get out immediately and call 9-1-1 from outside,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “It is also very important that once you get out, you stay out. If someone is missing, inform the dispatcher when you call and let the fire department perform the rescue. Understandably, this can be a tough message to accept, especially if a loved one or pet is still inside. However, firefighters are properly trained and equipped to navigate a fire, civilians aren’t.”
Fire can spread rapidly, particularly in homes, which often contain multiple, highly combustible items like furniture, bedding and curtains. Within minutes, the intense heat from fire can cause severe, life-threatening burns; the dark, black smoke it generates makes it impossible to see through, and breathing can quickly become difficult or impossible. In many cases, the individual who goes back inside becomes trapped, while the person or pet they’re trying to save has escaped in the interim.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office offers the following essential guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to help Tennesseans be prepared for a fire emergency:
- Install smoke alarms inside and outside every sleeping area and on every level of your home.
- Make a home escape plan. Draw a map of each level of the home. Show all doors and windows. Go to each room and point to the two ways out. Practice the plan with everyone in your household, including visitors.
- Make sure all doors and windows that lead outside open. Ensure everyone in the household can unlock and open all doors and windows, even in the dark.
- If the smoke alarm sounds or fire is discovered in your home, get out fast. Close doors behind you as you leave to help stop the spread of the fire.
- Doors need to be tested before opening them. Use the back of your hand to see if the door is warm. If it is, use another escape route.
- If you have to escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your way out.
- If you are trapped, close all doors between you and the fire. Stuff the cracks around the doors with clothes or towels to keep out smoke.
- Call the fire department, wait at a window and signal for help with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.
- Once you are out, stay out.
- Call the fire department from your safe outside meeting place.
- If people or pets are trapped, notify the fire department and let them handle the rescue efforts. Never go back inside for people, pets, or things.
To help create your home’s escape plan, print the State Fire Marshal’s home fire safety checklist and escape grid. For more home fire safety information or to download a free copy of the 2018 Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office calendar, visit tn.gov/fire.