TELL IT LIKE IT IS
[Part 2 of 2]
Recently, I presented a fire safety education program to a group of men, women and 10th grade students (non-fire related). At the beginning of the program, I asked the group to define fire as they understood it to be. The answers were varied and although not wrong were open for discussion.
A definition of FIRE as per IFSTA manual (International Fire Service Training Association): “Rapid oxidation of combustible materials accompanied by the release of energy in the form of heat and light.” My mentor Dr. Burton A. Clark, E.F.O. (Executive Fire Officer), National Fire Academy, emphasized to me “always present information in a manner that is positive and always deliver only useful information! So, Tell It like It Is. Remember your feelings are not facts; present only (the) facts using empirical data (that which can be verified).
Of note worthiness Dr. Clark is the author of a newly released book titled “I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying” an excellent must read for all fire officers and firefighters. It truly hits home and is relevant to all fire service personnel.
Try utilizing the 5 Step Planning Process (ISDIE): Identify (the problem), Select (a means to deal with it), Design (a program to do it), Implement (it), Evaluate the results. If the outcome was not to your liking, go back to step 2 and begin again. This is an acceptable methodology to deal with practically all problematic situations.
Speaking of fire, yes it’s hot, sometimes it’s light, but not always. Hollywood movies have visually told us that fire is light. Fire is dark, it’s black. You can’t see, you can’t breathe. In 3 minutes or less you will succumb to a lack of oxygen. Humans require 19-21% of oxygen to survive. When the oxygen level drops to less than 19% or less asphyxiation occurs followed soon by death.
Good terminologies to use are, “the fire was extinguished, the fire is under control, the cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, the cause of the fire is accidental, the cause of the fire is incendiary, or the cause of the fire is natural”. Arson as defined in NFPA 921 (National Fire Protection Association); the crime of maliciously and intentionally, or recklessly, starting a fire or causing an explosion. A criminal justice tutorial by Sue-Titus- & Reid defines arson as: the malicious burning of the structure(s) of another, or one’s own real estate, with the intent to defraud (insurance, etc.). Arson is a term for the courts (jury) to determine. The term suspicious was NOT included in the text. Suspicious as defined in the American Heritage dictionary: questionable; distrustful; a state of mind.
To convict: “arson”, motive, means and opportunity must be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
When I questioned the group, who has a fire extinguisher, several acknowledged they did. However they admitted they had not taken the time to read the instructions or check the gauge for a full charge (in-the-green). Do you recall P.A.S.S. “Pull-the-pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the trigger, and Sweep side-to-side (at the base of the fire)?” Keep in mind, they are fire extinguishers; smoke doesn’t count, you must see flame. Here’s a thought, an (ABC) all-purpose fire extinguisher can be utilized as a defense weapon. No one wants to be sprayed in-the-face with dry chemical powder; that burns eyes and impedes breathing. The ABC extinguisher can be used to break glass should you have the need to escape out of a window, it can also be used to strike an intruder should that be necessary.
While shopping at a box store, I spoke with an employee about CO alarms. I was told I had to read the directions on the package; the clerk had no clue. The alarm detects CARBON MONOXIDE (CO); odorless colorless, tasteless and ignitable gaseous material. C02, liquefied CARBON DIOXIDE under pressure, is a fire extinguishment agent; “Call it WHAT it is, correctly”. Correct terminology is very important. Also, according to a ‘gas expert’, a CO alarm is only “good” for approximately 5 years, gas sensors deteriorate and become useless. Note: natural gas (and its byproduct’s) is lighter-than-air and accumulate at upper level areas. L.P., liquefied petroleum gas, is heavier-than-air and accumulates at low areas. Therefore the L.P. detectors should be installed low, and the natural gas detectors should be installed “up” high. L.P. is a product of the oil-refining process. Always stress that natural gas and L.P. gas are for heating and cooking ONLY in properly approved appliances.
That “rotten-egg” odor that you smell around gas is thiolate or more commonly known as mercaptan. Mercaptan has the ability to bond with carbon atoms in the gas resulting in the pungent-offensive odor. For additional information on gasses, refer to NFPA 54 and the Propane Education & Research Council available on-line.
Did you ever question why some EXIT signs are RED and others are GREEN? Educators present to students that red means stop, green means go. So, EXIT signs should be GREEN, right? And then, the red signs are installed at ceiling level where smoke will accumulate and obscure them from sight. Red is a spectrum color difficult to recognize in smoke. I Recommend green EXIT signs be installed at or near the floor on exit doors or next to them. The new “state-of-the-art” exit signs are LED (light emitting diode) with sensors that absorb ambient sun light and display (brilliant-green) during darkness.
Exits are defined as egress to the outside of a structure. Do you check for the exits (are they clear/blocked) and the fire systems (smoke detectors, SPRINKLERS) where you live, work, vacation or dine out?
Then, a participant brought up “Stop-Drop-Roll” if your clothes are on fire. An important 4th step is to cover your face, nose and mouth to aid in preventing inhaling of “hot” gasses and smoke. This action is very important; if your lungs get burned or scorched, they will be “stuck-together” forever preventing you from breathing; so step #4 is very important, pass it on correctly and practice it correctly.
Live fire (and smoke) tests have proven that in a fire, seconds count; properly installed and operating smoke and CO alarms are a MUST. Learn the various types of alarms, photoelectric and ionization and combination units containing both with CO sensors. Three minutes (or less) is all the time you have to activate your escape plan and get out (AND STAY OUT). Keep-in-mind the best and safest place in smoke is low, typically, breathable air is about 12 to 18 inches off the floor.
Since there is NO rewind to your “horror movie”, you must be reasonably certain your actions are correct and deliberate. Make your decisions wisely based on your fire safety education and the escape plan that you have designed and practiced; share it with others and pass it on.
Education is key to fire prevention, fire safety and SURVIVAL in any emergency. Constant practice and updating your plans and procedures to meet the requirements of the day are necessary for a successful outcome. At the conclusion of the program, I issued a “test”, complete with correct answers, they all passed.
I have just told it like it is, called it what it is, as I see it, so pass it along to others as I just did to you
Ed Knight is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI/CFII) and a fire instructor; a retired municipal assistant fire marshal, forensic investigator having investigated several thousand fires and testified over 60 times throughout the United States and several foreign countries. He is Chairman of the Live Burn Facility, Pequea Lane, Lancaster, PA.