The kids are having a sleepover and it’s all a bit hectic, so the first thing to pop into your mind before starting on the dinner is probably not the need to run through the home fire exit plan.
If you were introducing someone new at work that’s exactly what you’d do – and the experts in the fire and rescue service says we should apply the same sort of routine to our own homes.
Before you dismiss this as health and safety gone mad, crew commander James McIntyre explains that getting out of your home quickly and safely is a whole new ball game when there’s a fire and it’s filled with smoke.
“Smoke takes away everything you know – you use your sight to get around your house,” he said.
“When you lose visibility you become very quickly disorientated because you don’t have the landmarks within the property that you are used to seeing.”
And it’s not just a case of getting out of the house – smoke is much more deadly than the fire that’s raging and just two to three breaths can render you unconscious.
“The biggest killer in a fire is the smoke because of the toxins in it,” said James, 24, who joined the fire service as a retained blaze battler when he was just 18.
Smoke rises so if you are forced to make your way through a smoke-filled room the key is to stay low.
There’s help at hand from the experts for people who are unsure about how to go about planning their fire escape route.
Herts Fire and Rescue Service offers a free home fire safety visit, when firefighters can talk you through the options, identify any hazards and fit a free smoke detector, which should be tested once a week.
“You need to know where the exit is to get out and it needs to be practised regularly so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire,” says James.
“You also need to think about what you would do if your escape route becomes blocked.
“It is quite important that you practice it with visitors especially, if you have got children who have friends that come over to stay.
“It is something that people need to think about because no-one plans for a fire, but if it happens and you have got kids screaming and running around the house, you as the adult have to try and get hold of the situation and get everyone out of the property.”
For most people, the quickest exit from a house is straight down the stairs and out the front or back door.
But as James points out: “It’s not always going to be possible to get to the bottom of the stairs and out of the door.
“You need to think about going back into the bedroom, closing the door and putting some bedding, towels or clothing at the base of the door.
“Ideally go to a front facing bedroom or wherever the vehicle access is going to be.
“Then open the window to get some fresh air in and shout ‘fire’ out of the bedroom window.”
People used to be advised to call out ‘help’ but it was discovered that many people associate this with domestic issues and don’t want to get involved.
James said: “Try and go into a room with a phone or mobile phone in it and call 999. The control staff will talk you through what to do.”
A standard bedroom door will protect the person inside from a fire for 20 to 30 minutes, and that’s with the flames licking at the door. If you have fire doors, they will offer at least an hour’s worth of protection.
This means that climbing out of the window is usually the last resort but, of course, it depends on the circumstances.
And if people feel they absolutely must climb out of the window, they should throw out a mattress or bedding first so that there is something to cushion their landing.
The fire service advises people to conduct a home fire drill with the whole family at least every six months.
For more help on home fire safety visit www.hertsdirect.org/fire or call 0300 123 4046.