When it is no longer safe to fight a fire or when a fire has become uncontrollable, its time to run. At not point of time should your escape route be blocked.
How long does it take for fire to become uncontrollable?
In open air Australia wild fires, this is how fast wild fires move. It is impossible to outrun such a fire in the open let alone a fire in an enclosed space at home. Usually, the time of action will be the first two minutes but it can be shorter depending on the amount of combustibles in the home. After two minutes, a fire will usually be uncontrollable and become very hard to put out. At any point of time when your instincts tell you to flee, it usually is accurate.
Signs that a fire is about to become uncontrollable
When a fire occurs, a lot of by products are produced. Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are both produced in large quantities. The danger here is that both gases are invisible, have no smell and very deadly when inhaled. The burning plastics and synthetic materials also create a very poisonous cocktail of black smoke.
If the entire ceiling is covered with thick black smoke, it is time to run. Chances are, you have already inhaled a deadly amount of carbon monoxide and are about to get knocked out but you will not realize this. This is because carbon monoxide causes confusion and disorientation when inhaled in large amounts.
We have seen some how owners wearing a piece of wet cloth around their mouth before engaging in fire fighting. Covering your mouth with a wet cloth stops smoke particles but not poisonous fumes. The poisonous fume particles are too fine to be filtered out by the wet cloth.
Another danger is the possibility of a flash over. When thick smoke covers the entire ceiling, you have approximately less than 30 seconds to leave. The temperature becomes so hot that everything in the room will simultaneously catch fire upon reaching ignition point. Once that happens, only death remains. The air becomes so hot that every breath of air you breathe in will not only poison you but instantly cook your lungs.
When the fire extinguisher is used up
If the fire size remains unchanged or has grown larger after fully discharging the first fire extinguisher, it is time to run. This usually means that the fire has gone completely out of control. It also means you have likely stayed in the smoke logged room for at least 3 minutes.
You might be tempted to try again with another fire extinguisher or use other fire fighting measures.
Do not do it.
There is no way to measure the amount of smoke you have already inhaled. You cannot see carbon monoxide with your eyes. By the time you feel dizzy, it will be too late to make an attempt to escape. Professional fire fighters or trained CERT teams have a self contained breathing apparatus which makes it much safer for them to fight fires for a long time.
By fully discharging the fire extinguisher at the fire, you have already done your best to slow the spread of fire. The next best thing that can be done is to wait for SCDF to arrive.
According to SCDF’s service quality policy , they are able to reach the scene of fire within 8 minutes 90% of the time. What you can help to do is to alert SCDF personnel of what has happened and if there are people trapped inside. They have the means of putting out the fire but do not have complete information.
Solo fire fighters are in grave danger
If you intend to attempt to fight a fire, if possible, notify another person to let the fire fighters know. This is in the event, if you are unexpectedly trapped, the fire fighters know that there is still someone left in the building. Fire fighters have no way of knowing whether if there are people trapped in a fire. Activating the fire alarm does not tell fire fighters who is left in the building.
Always have a clear escape route
If the path behind you is about to be blocked, you must run immediately.
Examples of this include the flickering of lights or fire reaching your escape route. Flickering lights indicate that the room might suddenly become dark due to loss of electricity. This makes it very difficult to escape. It could also be a huge crowd trying to escape and getting stuck at a choke point.
Be very careful when flammable liquids reach your escape path. It takes less than a second for the flammable liquid to ignite.
Before you fight a fire, you must always keep the door opened. You will never know if it has been locked or chained from the other side. It could also be possible that the route of escape has been unknowing blocked behind the door.
Read up on other fire extinguisher topics.
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Fire Extinguisher Instruction Manual
How to use a fire extinguisher to fight fires
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Where to place fire extinguisher at home?
Can I use my fire extinguisher on electric fire?
How to inspect a fire extinguisher?