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Ask a Firefighter: Are smoke alarms enough?
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By Captain Jane Perkins
March 7, 2021

Working smoke alarms play an essential role in protecting your family at night, but firefighters want you to know that there is one more important thing that you should do before you turn in for the night. Firefighters are encouraging children and adults to sleep with their bedroom doors closed. Closing your bedroom door before you go to sleep will substantially improve your chances of surviving a fire in your home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the number of home fires decreases when people go to sleep. However, the NFPA also reports that fire deaths are at their highest late at night and in the early morning hours. More than half of all residential fire deaths occur in fires that start between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but the number of fire deaths peak when the fire is from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., when most people are in a deep sleep.

The “Close Your Door” fire safety program is intended to increase public awareness of a fire safety action that will help increase your chance of surviving a fire. Following years of research, the Firefighter Safety Research Institute, which is a part of Underwriters Laboratory Incorporated, has demonstrated conclusively that a slight change in your behavior, simply closing your bedroom door, will have a potentially lifesaving impact. Their research and tests have clearly proven that a closed bedroom door will substantially improve your chances to survive if there is a fire in your home.

If you close your door before you snore, you can make a 900-degree difference. During repeated testing under live fire conditions that simulated a residential structure fire, rooms with an open door had temperatures that were about a thousand degrees while rooms with a closed door had temperatures that were only a hundred degrees.

If you close before you doze, you can help your family breathe. The Consumer Products Safety Commission notes that during a fire, smoke and deadly gases spread farther and faster than the actual fire. That is one reason why most victims die from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases as opposed to burns. A majority of fatal fires happen when families are asleep and unaware of the fire until there is not enough time to escape.

If you close your door before you snore, you can help everyone sleep safely. Modern construction and furniture are made of synthetic materials that burn hotter than organic materials, causing fires to spread faster than ever. Since the majority of fatal fires happen when families are asleep, they are often unaware of the fire until it has spread to the point that there is not enough time to escape.

If you close before you doze, you provide an additional layer of protection between you and the fire. While closing doors throughout your home will always help slow the spread of a fire, closing your bedroom doors at night is even more important because you and your family are probably more likely to have delayed notification of the fire and will have less time to react and respond to the emergency due to waking suddenly and being groggy and disoriented.

Please note that there are some drawbacks to this program. A primary concern is whether the sound of a smoke detector will be heard through a closed door. While smoke detectors in newer residences must be interconnected and installed inside and outside every bedroom, older homes are not required by law to have them. Your local firefighters strongly encourage you to place interconnected smoke detectors in every bedroom as well as in the halls within 10 feet of every bedroom door. They also suggest that you test how well your family members can hear the alarm when their doors are closed.

During a study conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, when a door was closed, smoke alarms sounded between ten and twenty decibels softer in the next room. Having smoke alarms inside the bedrooms and on all floors makes it more likely that a sounding alarm will be loud enough to wake you.

In addition to being familiar with the sound of the smoke alarm, each family member should also know the escape plan, and where the designated meeting place is if there is a fire in your home. Remember, if you are able to escape, leave immediately and call 911 from a neighbor’s home or use a cell phone after you have left the house. However, if your exits are blocked, close the doors between you and the fire and call 911. Be sure to tell the emergency dispatcher that you are trapped in the house, and try to provide as much detail about your location. The closed doors will slow the spread of the fire and give firefighters time to find you and help you escape.

In addition, as you leave your home, and if it is safe to do so, always close the doors behind you. Simply closing the doors will help limit the spread of the fire by limiting the flow of air into the fire area. This will often prevent a fire from spreading quickly and will limit the overall property damage.

For more information, please check out the website www.closeyourdoor.org to learn more about the “Close Your Door” public education campaign.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

Hyperlinks: The Westerly Sun

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