Your reaction during the first few seconds of a fire could spell your life or death.
Fire can spread within seconds and consume anything combustible in its path.
Knowing what to do immediately and actually being able to do it properly and in time can help save lives and property.
In the UAE, the Civil Defence evacuates the entire building in case of emergencies even if the fire is minor. For their own safety, residents shouldn’t ignore fire alarms regardless whether they are false alarms or not.
Anatomy of a fire
To beat fire, we first need to know what it is, how it starts and how it spreads. Remember, for fire to ignite, it needs three elements: heat, fuel and oxygen. The process goes like this: fuel or something combustible, like paper or cloth, is heated by an external source and gives off vapours. These vapours ignite and cause the chain reaction to begin that leads to a fire.
The three elements are interdependent so removing even one of them will kill the fire.
Gulf News teamed up with Al Salama Fire Safety Training, one of the largest fire safety training companies approved by Dubai Civil Defence, to educate residents on the crucial actions to take in case of a fire.
Most importantly, we asked them what to do seconds after a disaster like a fire strikes.
Here are the things you can do if your home or office catches fire:
First few seconds of a Fire: Stay alert!
“In case of a fire, the first thing you should do is to try and inform others as quickly as possible. Second, check what has happened. If you can fight the fire, do it. But if you can’t, evacuate and help other people evacuate,” Michael Vogt, a fire safety trainer from Al Salama, told Gulf News.
If the fire is contained in a small area like a waste bin and you have a fire extinguisher near you and you know how to use it, do it!
If you are sure that there is no one left in the room that’s on fire, close the door but do not lock it. Fire consumes oxygen in a contained space and additional oxygen from another room fuels it. Also, if you close the door, chances of fire or smoke spreading to the other rooms are minimised.
A minute after the fire is spreading: Evacuate!
During a fire, leave everything behind. Prioritise life over your possessions. Inform residents in the building and evacuate to safety. Once out, do a head count.
Leaving the premises immediately is important as delaying it could lower your chances of survival. When evacuating, never use the lift. Go straight to the Emergency Exit and use the staircase.
Planning is key; start now
Your personal documents are obviously important to you so it is always advisable to keep them all in one place and in an easily accessible area, so you are good to grab and go in case of an emergency. Prepare a knapsack with important personal effects that is good for two days. Make sure you can grab it immediately in case of emergency.
In case there are people who need special assistance like the elderly or people with special needs, Dubai Civil Defence urges families to register them so special assistance can be sent immediately.
For your own safety, locate all the emergency exits in your building and where fire extinguishers are kept NOW. It will only take a few minutes. But this knowledge will prove useful to you when a disaster strikes and there’s no time to go around checking for where the exits in your building might be.
Stuck in a room? Stay low and go!
In case you get stuck in a smoke-filled room when evacuating, remember to stay low. Most deaths in house or building fires are not due to burns but due to smoke inhalation.
“In case of fire in your workplace or home, generally, smoke is one of the byproducts of fire. Smoke rises and occupies the top layer of the room. The bottom layer from one to three feet is where you can get fresh air which means oxygen, which is important for survival,” Manoj Felix, fire safety trainer at Al Salama, said.
“If you’re able to find a handkerchief, dip it in water and cover your nose. If you can’t find one, take your shirt and cover your face up to just below your eyes. After that, stay low and crawl until you reach the exit,” he added.
When you see a closed door and you don’t know if the other side is on fire, feel the door with the back of your hand. If it’s hot, don’t take that route if you can find another one.
If it’s impossible to leave the room and the fire is raging outside, close the door and seal all holes with a wet cloth so no smoke can enter through it. If someone had alerted the Civil Defence, they should be able to help you out. Or you can call them yourself and tell them exactly where you are. Still, protect yourself from smoke inhalation while waiting.
When your shirt catches fire: STOP, DROP, and ROLL!
If your shirt suddenly catches fire, don’t panic. Do not run.
“If you run, you will spread the fire. You should stop, drop and roll. This is because when you lie down, there won’t be too much air to fan the flames, preventing it from spreading. You should drop because if you are standing up, the natural progression of fire is to spread upwards and maximum injury can happen. The next thing to do is roll on your back completely to and fro to smother the fire,” Manoj Shakespeare Felix, a fire safety trainer from Al Salama, said.
Here, we see that cutting off oxygen supply by rolling from side to side will extinguish the fire. But remember to cover your face when doing this.
“The fire should not spread to your face because there are many vital organs like your eyes and nose in your face. Also, never pour water on a person who is on fire as he may suffer from a heart attack. His heart may have a seizure when cold water hits his body,” Felix added.
What if it’s a kitchen fire? Starve it!
Unattended cooking is the most common cause of kitchen fires. In case your pan of oil catches fire, NEVER throw water on it. Also NEVER carry the pan anywhere. Doing both things will only make it spread.
The best way to beat grease fire is to turn off the stove first. Then starve the fire. Use a metal lid or a cookie sheet to smother the fire. Wearing your oven mitts, slide the lid slowly from the side and cover the pan. Leave it there until the pan cools completely You can also do this with a fire blanket that you can use to cover the entire pan. The fire will die out on its own. You may also use baking soda to smother the fire.
What about if the food inside your microwave suddenly goes ablaze?
“The first thing you should do is to not panic. Turn off the main switch or unplug the microwave and leave the microwave that way for 15 minutes. Never try to open it nor pour water. Otherwise, if you open the door, you’re introducing fresh oxygen that will fuel the fire. Don’t pour water because it’s an electrical device,” fire safety officer Anil Thomas said.
Apply the same principles above if the fire becomes out of control.