Tim Chitwood: A few minutes to think about fleeing a fire

February 2, 2013 

Bright sunlight bounced off shattered glass on the ground outside a smoke-reeking Hood Street home a man died in Friday.

The mangled frame of a screen leaned on the wall below the gaping window firefighters broke out trying to rescue him.

They got there four minutes after the alarm came in, had the fire tamped in 10 minutes and left the brick rental house with only moderate damage.

Standing out front three hours after the 8 a.m. blaze, Columbus Fire Marshal Ricky Shores talked about the time it takes to escape a fire.

Wake up choking on smoke, disoriented by having inhaled carbon monoxide, and you have only seconds to get out -- if it's not already too late.

That's why firefighters like Shores preach the blessings of smoke detectors like missionaries call mourners to Christ: The machines whose obnoxious shrieking we know so well from false alarms save lives, turning seconds to escape into minutes, often leaving time even to call 911 on your way out.

Assuming you've left yourself a way out.

Shores said some residents do not. They block their exits with furniture and clutter. Some have burglar bars on all their windows and doors.

Everyone needs at least two ways out, if not more. You need to think ahead, and know where to go if flames limit your options.

Shores said firefight

ers find people also will take a lot of risks with an extension cord, running it under carpets, across doorways, under furniture, anywhere wear and tear eventually will fray it enough to spark. And of course they'll load up an old home's antique electrical system like it was made to power a Best Buy electronics display.

To keep snug, some cover their windows with plastic. If they try saving money by using an oven or stove for heat, they take two risks: Of something flammable touching the flame, and of inefficient burning filling the house with carbon monoxide.

Shores said you should never use an appliance made for another purpose to heat your home.

But it's the smoke detector he comes back to.

He says you can be living next door to the best firefighters at the best station in America and die before they can rescue you, if you don't know you're breathing smoke until it's too late.

Anyone who needs help getting a smoke detector can call his fire prevention division at 706-653-3500, Shores said.

Tim Chitwood, tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com, 706-571-8508.

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