This month, a fire broke out in a house in Medina, Ohio. While a residential structure fire breaks out somewhere in the United States every two minutes, why is this one so special? This one gives me the opportunity to see what you know and how much you have learned about fire behavior and fire safety since I have been writing these articles.
A teenager was in his bedroom in a house owned by his mother. He was smoking and playing video games while lying on his bed. He could not locate the remote control for his television set, and felt that it may have fallen to the floor and rolled under the bed. This young man had trouble seeing under the bed so he took his cigarette lighter and lit it. He then moved the lighter under the bed to illuminate the area.
We are not sure if the cigarette he placed on the bed caught fire first, or if it was the underside of the mattress where he was holding the flame near. Either way, the mattress is now on fire. As with most insulated material, it smoldered with little flame for some time. The family decided they would open the doors and windows, hoping to control the damage from the smoke by letting it out of the house. The rapid influx of oxygen to the smoldering mattress allowed it to break out in flames very quickly. The wind moved the heat, smoke and flames through the house very rapidly, starting a devastating fire that the mother and son would escape from. The three family dogs perished in the fire.
What have you learned so far? What were the inappropriate actions that led to this fire breaking out and spreading so quickly? Let's take a look.
If you allow smoking in your house, make it perfectly clear to the smokers that they must use large, sturdy ashtrays when smoking. The ashtrays should be large enough to hold the entire cigarette, in case it is forgotten and left to burn. Never smoke in bed, as that is too dangerous a practice in any home.
When looking in dark places, have several flashlights in the home that are easy to locate and have good batteries. This will eliminate the need to take a lighter and put it under the mattress while looking away from the flame.
If a fire does break out, limit the amount of oxygen to the area by closing doors to the fire room and house. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire. Be cautious and have your professional firefighters respond and remedy the problem. The first priority is to get everyone out of the house. Fires can spread quickly, and bring heat and smoke with them. Having a home escape plan and practicing it can save lives. Install and test smoke alarms in your home.
Hopefully, through this tragedy, we can all refresh ourselves about the steps necessary to limit damage in case a fire breaks out.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.