WHEN tackling fire, it is important to understand the key elements involved, that is the fire triangle. The fire triangle consists of heat, fuel and oxygen — a set of interdependent factors. Cut any one of these off and the fire will die. However, there are different kinds of fire requiring specific methods of handling.
For example, electrical fires must never be put off using water or foam-based extinguishers. This is because both of these substances are good conductors of electricity and their application will worsen the fire instead. Use of carbon dioxide or dry powder based extinguishers is recommended which are also commonly used to put out ordinary fires. But whatever is the source of the fire, if it cannot be extinguished, then evacuation must proceed immediately.
Failure to evacuate in time leads to deaths of civilians due to smoke inhalation and asphyxiation. More victims suffocate to death rather than being burned. The fire smoke contains a mixture of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride due to various kind of materials (plastic, wood, nylon, polyvinyl et cetera) being combusted. And these can be fatal to anyone irrespective of age or fitness level.
Therefore, if trapped in such a situation the first step is to not panic and block out or minimise the smoke. For this, wet a cloth or handkerchief and wrap it around the nose and mouth. This filters out the poisonous gases. Never breathe through the mouth. Use your teeth to grip on to the cloth. Follow the same procedure to cover door drafts, ventilators to prevent smoke from entering. Open windows to let smoke out only if there is a sure sign of smoke not barging in from outside.
As hot air rises up, the smoke too rises up. When in motion, drop low for better visibility. Furthermore, oxygen depletion occurs rapidly. Breathing in burning hot air will scorch the lungs. It is this region where some oxygen is still left and the air is still cool. On average, a house fire can increase temperatures over 600 degrees Celsius in just three and half minutes. And even under the best-lit conditions, a fire can cause a blackout in roughly four minutes. Hence, knowing the escape plan of your building in advance is crucial.
When evacuating, always close the door behind. This contains the fire as oxygen supply is cut off and minimises the spread of smoke. When entering a new room, feel the temperature of the door. If hot, then, do not open the door.
In case, any part of your clothing catches fire, do not run as it is the equivalent of fanning the flames. Instead, drop and roll with your face covered by hands. Rolling deprives the fire of oxygen.
If you must escape through the windows, hang from the sill to shorten the height of fall. Or use bright-colored objects to attract the attention of rescuers.
It is better be safe than to be sorry. Thus, one should know at least two ways of getting in and out of a building, locate all the emergency exits and be able to use an extinguisher. Buildings must be installed with smoke detectors which play a vital role in saving lives. Because, there is hardly a window of five minutes before escape becomes a tough move.
Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from FYI