We talk a lot about time in the fire service. In many ways, to quote an area fire officer, “Firefighters do not fight fire. We fight the clock.” Once it gets started, a fire in a building will double in size every 30 to 60 seconds. A small fire in a trash can will often spread throughout an entire room in less than three minutes.
The reason for that is twofold: Our buildings are much tighter now with better windows and insulation, and that allows heat from the fire to radiate back on itself synergistically. Secondly, modern synthetic materials—for example couch cushions—produce more than four times the thermal energy than natural fibers used to in generations past.
So, what can you do to help us beat the clock? Buy yourselves those precious seconds you need to get out and we need to stop a small fire before it grows exponentially out of control.
There are two primary answers. Smoke detectors are the first answer. We have covered those in the past, and we will again in the future. The second answer is to close the interior doors in your house.
Closing the interior doors compartmentalizes your house, forcing the fire to slow its spread. If it wants to go from the hallway to your bedroom it now has to burn through your bedroom door. This is going to take a couple of precious minutes.
Think about it. What is the first thing that gets done on a ship that has leaking, or a warship that is going to battle stations? They close the doors.
Compartmentalize the ship and slow the spread of the water. While we may not have all served in the Navy, I’m relatively sure at least someone in your family has seen the movie “Titanic.” Closing your interior doors buys time.
The doors absolutely should be closed at night. Fire has a natural head start on us when we are in bed. Most residential fire deaths occur at night. Why give the fire the advantage by letting it move freely through your home?
I often hear from parents with young children that they or their children are not comfortable with the doors being closed at night. Sometimes the parents want to hear the kids if they call. Sometimes the kids want to know they have unrestricted access to mom and dad. My son is that way. He’s 7. His need to know that dad is right around the corner and not behind a closed door is both natural and expected.
No problem. He falls asleep with the door open, and every morning he wakes up with it mysteriously closed. I have no idea how the door gets closed every night, but it seems to happen just before I go to bed. Enjoy those years. Soon he will be 13, omniscient, and will want Fort Knox locks on the same door.
For the parents who are worried about hearing the kids, I get it. Break out the baby monitor is my immediate answer. You must not underestimate the terrifying speed with which a fire moves through a building. Please. Close the doors.
Closing them when you are not at home is important, too. Not only do you compartmentalize the fire, you have the same effect on the smoke. Smoke damage can be disastrous. More than once I have seen a small grease fire on the stove fill an entire home with smoke, damaging everything in its path.
This month I have enclosed two pictures of an apartment fire a few years ago in another town. The pictures are of adjoining bedrooms, which were next to a fully involved living room and kitchen. One bedroom door was open, and the room was totally destroyed. The second bedroom door was closed. That room remained survivable and nearly undamaged, despite the ferocity of the fire just outside the door. Something to think about.
Have a safe month, and please drive with care as our town’s youngsters head back to school.
Glenn Dube is a lieutenant with the Southington Fire Department.