Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Does your family have a fire safety plan? (82 percent in US do not)

In March 2011, Maureen Aissa's Binghamton, New York, home caught fire in the middle of the night with her five children inside. Her family, who did not have a fire safety plan, struggled to escape. Her 17-year-old son Jeffrey did not make it out alive.

"It went like matchsticks, it just went within minutes," Aissa recalled. "You relive the night, then you second-guess yourself: 'What if I did this, maybe I should've done this.'"

According to new figures released exclusively to TODAY by the American Red Cross, most Americans have no idea what to do if their house catches fire. Fifty-two percent have never talked to their kids about fire safety, and 82 percent of families have never practiced a family fire drill, even though there were nearly 488,000 structure fires in the U.S. last year alone, resulting in 2,800 deaths.

Startling new statistics from the American Red Cross reveal how few Americans have a family fire safety plan. In a revealing experiment, a Connecticut family is tested on what would happen if they had a fire in their home. NBC national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

Working with the Rossen Reports team, BullEx, a fire safety company, set up smoke machines and fake flames in the home of the Kay family of Connecticut to test their readiness for a fire emergency. The family did not have a fire plan.

The simulated nighttime fire started in the kitchen garbage can. Within seconds, smoke was all over the house. As the alarm sounded, the family's mom and dad stood up from their beds and headed for the hallway.

BullEx's Ryan O'Donnell said that was their first dangerous mistake. "There are superheated gases in there," he said. "If this was a real fire, a couple of breaths and they'd be all done."

Then the family's mom called to the children in their bedrooms: "You guys? Come out, come out, come out."

Each of the kids raced to their bedroom door and ripped it open. That was mistake No. 2, O'Donnell said: "There could have been a large body of fire right on the other side of that door. That's a critical mistake."

By this point the Kays were completely disoriented in the smoke, making it nearly impossible for them to find the stairs. Finally, they were by the front door — a way out. But then the mom made a potentially fatal mistake.

"I'm going to get the dog," she said, and went back inside the house, with the dad following right behind.

"You never want to pass an exit," O'Donnell said. "Especially to go deeper into the fire. This is not survivable."

When the Kays were finally out of the house, O'Donnell and Jeff Rossen went over their mistakes with them. For starters, the kids opened their bedroom doors without feeling the doors first to see if they were warm or not. If the doors were warm, they should have gone out a second way, such as their windows.

Second, the mom and dad stood up in the fire, when they needed to stay as low as possible. And, O'Donnell told them, they shouldn't have gone back toward the fire for the dog: "If you had a plan you would've known to exit the house first, then attempt to rescue the dog from the outside. Or another tip would be to let the dog sleep closer to you."

Armed with those tips, the Kays took the test again. This time they did everything right when the alarm went off — staying low, the kids feeling the doors, the dog with them — and made it out of the house much faster.

The Red Cross says there are simple things you need to do today to protect your family:
  • If you don't have them, install smoke detectors — at least one on each level of your house.
  • If you do have smoke detectors, test them today. The Red Cross says having working smoke detectors will cut your risk of death from fire in half.
  • Make a plan to get out of every room, and to get out of the house in less than 2 minutes.
  • Once you have a plan, practice it on a regular basis.
The Red Cross also offers a fire escape planning fact sheet you can use at home to prepare a plan.

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