You know what they say about firefighters. They are the guys rushing into a building on fire when everybody else is running madly away from the flames. For that reason alone, firefighters should probably be the highest paid occupation in the world. Certainly, firefighters deserve more money than so-called reality TV “stars” and athletes, not to mention all 535 members of Congress. You will never know exactly how underpaid firefighters actually are until you face the decision on whether to do what they do.
What would you do if faced with the decision of whether to run into a building on fire? Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you really don’t have any choice. Maybe a relative is still inside a house with flames shooting upward into the sky. Or maybe the only copy of your nearly completed novel is still inside. Something is worth going back into a building on fire, let’s say, so you take a deep breath, gulp back the rising vomit of fear in your throat and commit to doing what those underpaid firefighters do without a moment’s hesitation.
First, reconsider the situation. You should never enter a burning building unless there really and truly is absolutely no other recourse. Meaning it should be a matter of life and death and that you have already tried to contact emergency responders. If it really is a matter of going back into a burning house to retrieve the only copy of your unfinished novel, then stay out, hope for the best and consider this a valuable lesson in the importance of off-site storage. But for the sake of argument again, let’s say that entering a building on fire really is a matter of life and death and you cannot afford to wait for emergency responders.
Protect Your Body
The very first thing to do before rushing into a building that is on fire is to look for anything immediately available to use as protection against the heat and flames. If at all possible, try to enter a burning building wearing long sleeves and long pants. A jacket or coat of some kind will make running into a burning building even safer. The point is to find something–preferably something fireproof–to cover up as much exposed skin as possible. Lacking any clothing that meets this need, search the surroundings for anything from a canvas tarp to something within easy grasp that that isn’t made of flammable material which can protect your skin.
You probably won’t have time to think this over, much less take any action, but if you find yourself having the luxury of even just a minute or two of extra time before you must enter a burning building, keep in mind that your safety level will depend on the fabric of clothing. Natural fibers like cotton will burn very quickly once inside a burning building. That certainly sounds pretty awful and dangerous, but the alternative if you are not wearing natural fibers could be significantly more worse. Synthetic fibers like polyester or anything constructed from petroleum products or plastic will melt just as surely as if you were wearing a giant plastic bottle over your body. The difference? Cotton shirt and pants will burn away from your body whereas polyester clothing will directly onto your skin . This melting and sticking will make the burns you suffer by running into a burning building even worse as the material sticks to your charred flesh.
Where There’s Smoke There’s Danger
Smoke is the cause of more deaths attributed to fires than the flame itself . Smoke can vary from one building fire to another due to the objects that are burning inside. These elements inside a building are capable of producing smoke that can kill as a result of the presence of toxic gases. Any time you run into a burning building, regardless of the cause of the fire or the objects being incinerated, you run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Many fires will also present a certain level of risk of too much carbon dioxide in the air. Hydrogen cyanide is an ever present threat in building fires where plastics or textiles are the victims of burning. The biggest danger to the average person running into a building on fire is most likely the fact that fire burns up a significant amount of the oxygen present in the air. Areas inside a building most likely to present a danger due to oxygen levels being burned up are any enclosed spaces like a stairwell, elevator or narrow hallway.
Douse the Water Dousing Idea
Unless you have quick access to water that you can douse yourself with to help keep yourself cool when you are running into a burning building to save someone, ditch it. Precious moments spent looking for water to douse over your head and clothing can mean the difference between saving a life and killing yourself. On the other hand, if you already happen to have a bottle of water nearby or in your hand, go ahead and pour it over yourself. This simple action may be able to keep yourself cooler in the face of burning flames.
Heat rises and cool keeps it on the downlow. This means that you will find the most comfortable conditions lower to the floor when you enter a burning building. Not only is comfort involved, however; entering the building low to the ground keeps you from heading into the thickest aspects of the smoke that is so dangerous to anyone attempting to save a victim from a burning building.