Why Newer Homes May be More Dangerous in a Fire
With an increased focus on fire safety during the month of October, new information shows the time that you have to escape from a house or apartment blaze has been greatly reduced because of how many dwellings are being constructed these days.
The time that you have for you and your loved ones to get out of a burning home could be as little as three minutes, because newer building materials and furnishings, synthetics and plastics, flare faster and burn quicker.
"It burns at higher, faster rates, which in turn lessens the amount of time that people have to get out of their homes." Atlantic City Fire Chief Scott Evans said. "What we are seeing now with modern construction from furniture and finishings, you are seeing a lot of plastics used, a lot of polymers, different chemicals. And these chemicals burn at a higher thermal rate, a greater thermal output."
Evans says a misnomer about some of these new materials that are being used is that they advertise themselves as being "fire retardant" or "fire proof." And that is true to the touch of a match - if you were to use a match and lay it on top of a couch, the match extinguish itself. According to Evans however, if that couch gets heated to a higher temperature such as a small flame the fire retardant may no longer be effective. At that point, the chemicals in these plastics and other substances will start to ignite and the material almost turns into what he terms, "liquid gasoline."
These materials are even more risky during a fire because of the fumes, said Judson Moore, president of the New Jersey State Fire Chiefs Association.
"It is just newer materials newer technology. But at the same time it is more toxic to humans," Moore said.
Moore said it is the toxic smoke that is so powerful.
"It is not like materials back in days past that were not so toxic. But it is the fumes that really can penetrate humans and bring a person down very quickly," he said.
What all of this means, according to both Evans and Moore, is that you need working smoke detectors and a good practical escape plan... and get out fast if you have to.
"It is so important to have some type of escape route, even if you are in a bedroom. If you know that you can open up a window, go out the front porch or go down the hallway and out of a window. Of if you are on the first floor where the doors are, because you have just seconds, really to get out," Moore said.
Summit Fire Chief Eric Evers said it's very important for people to have a "secondary means of egress," meaning a second way to exit their home, aside from the front door. Evers also said with the holiday season and cold weather approaching, it's important to be mindful of appliances such as space heaters, as well as the use of candles.