Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Fireground Safety

Connecting with the Community: How To React During Fires

By Tom Kiurski

Studies show that people often make poor decisions when faced with fire. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since the carbon monoxide that all fires give off takes its toll on our bodies, making us disoriented and confused. Studies indicate that when smoke is present, about 60 percent of the people attempted to move through the smoke. The more the smoke spread, the more likely people were to use an exit other than the normal one. Depending on where the nearest exit is located, this behavior can be either good or bad. However, in many cases, poor judgment because of a lack of knowledge caused individuals to attempt to fight the fire as a first option. How many times have we seen people make poor choices during fire situations?

Studies found three types of reactions to a fire situation. In the following order, people’s primary concerns were: Evacuating of the building (a good choice!), fighting or confining the fire, and alerting others. Although some of these behaviors are proper in many circumstances, the study also found that many people feel they should reenter the burning building, delaying fire department notification. Untrained people reentering burning buildings without the personal protection equipment that firefighters wear is almost certain to be a poor choice.

In terms of priorities, females were found much more likely to warn others about the fire situation, followed by leave the building, request assistance, and evacuate their families. Males were inclined to stay and fight the fire, followed by taking actions to minimize the risk, such as closing doors. The males then ranked leaving the building and evacuating others next on the list, followed by calling for assistance as their last choice.

The part of the study that I as a firefighter find encouraging is that the more frequently people received fire training or instruction on what to do in a fire, the more likely those folks were to raise the alarm or organize evacuation as a first action. This is where we come in. Passing this information on to your community, through your local media (e.g., television and newspapers) is a good way to remind your citizens of the proper fire actions to take.

Make no mistake about it…when a fire occurs or fire alarm sounds, the proper action is to take your family and exit the building. Once outside, citizens should call the fire department to inform them of the emergency. Encourage your adults to plan ahead and quiz their families the proper reaction to a fire occurring while out to dinner, at a theatre before the movie starts, or at a sporting event. This study is living proof that the more training people have on fire safety, the more likely they are to take appropriate action.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.