By JOEL SELLINGER
I was working on Ladder 5 for the Everett (WA) Fire Department, and we had just arrived at a structure fire on the north end of the city. The fire was quickly upgraded to a second alarm that, for us, drastically drained the city of resources; we now had to rely heavily on neighboring departments for additional alarms.
Shortly after our arrival, our radios echoed the words you never want to hear: “Structure fire in the south end of town with report of children in the apartment on fire.” Immediately, a nauseous, gut-wrenching feeling hit my stomach. We were one of the companies cut loose from the initial fire, so we headed south. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, we heard the size-up from the first-in engine: “Medium three-story apartment building, heavy fire from the first floor, extending to second and third. Bystanders report children in first-floor unit.” We continued on for what seemed like an eternity.
As we arrived on scene, Engine 6 reported that it had found one occupant—a female child. Just a minute later, they found a second female child. By the time we had parked and made our way to the scene, both children were loaded into medic units and prepped for trips to the emergency room. We later learned that the twin three-year-olds were napping in the master bedroom. The person responsible for watching them had apparently left the apartment but not before closing the door to their room. A fire broke out in the kitchen and spread quickly. That closed door, which held back the heat and toxic smoke for more than 12 minutes, along with an aggressive interior fire attack and search, saved these girls’ lives.
This fire and the children involved resonated with me and my coworkers for an additional reason—the fire happened almost exactly one year since we started working on LifeDoor, a device that automatically shuts interior doors at the sound of a smoke alarm.
In 2017, 10 years after research by the Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL-FSRI), it launched the “Close Before You Doze” campaign (closeyourdoor.org) to educate people about the vital importance of shutting the bedroom door before going to sleep. The Web site offers information about the effectiveness of closing the door before going to bed as well as a child-friendly platform for educating children about the concept.
Fires spread dramatically faster in part because of the widespread use of synthetic materials in our modern homes, and the statistics are sobering. UL-FSRI reports that 40 years ago, residents had 17 minutes to escape a house fire; today, they have only three minutes. This research has shown that a closed door is the most effective way to create more survivable time for occupants who can’t immediately exit a burning structure.
LifeDoor is a simple but powerful door-closing device that mounts to your existing door and attaches to it at its hinge. You can install it in about three minutes, and it doesn’t necessitate any specialized tools. Installation is similar to installing a hinge-mounted doorstop followed by two small screws to secure the unit to the door. The device loads the first time the door is opened.
LifeDoor is a “set-and-forget” device, meaning that, after the initial opening, the door is free swinging. Other than for the peace of mind you’ll feel when putting your kids to bed, you’ll hardly know the device is there. If there is a false alarm or when you test your smoke alarms, the device is reloaded the next time the door is opened.
LifeDoor has a patent-pending audio sensor that detects only the specific sound of your smoke alarm. When triggered by this sound, LifeDoor performs the following four crucial actions:
- It shuts the door.
- It lights up the room with built-in LED lights.
- It sounds a secondary alarm.
- It has a smart option that will send an alert to your smartphone through a “smarthome” hub.
Shortly after LifeDoor’s launch, third-party monitoring will be available for customers who want this feature, which will allow most users to get five to 10 percent off their homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. LifeDoor runs on two AA batteries and has an expected battery life of 24 to 36 months with monthly testing.
As firefighters, we know the importance of a closed door in a fire. As a father, I know the struggle many parents have trying to get their kids to sleep with their doors closed. LifeDoor ensures doors are closed when it matters most, making the bedtime routine with your kids that much simpler.
JOEL SELLINGER is the co-founder of LifeDoor Inc. and is a member of the Everett (WA) Fire Department, where he works on Ladder 5’s C-shift.