MILWAUKEE -- A fire can double its size every 17 seconds. Give it fuel and oxygen, and the blaze can destroy a house within minutes. The chances of escaping a fire are even slimmer.
“The key to getting yourself out of a fire is the early warning before the fire has a chance to grow,” Milwaukee firefighter Chris Gauthier said.
In the city of Milwaukee, the number of house fires has more than doubled in the last two years. In 2010, four fire deaths were reported. In 2011, there were 10 fire fatalities.
“Smoke is the number one thing that kills people in fires. The first thing you should worry about is getting out of your house," Gauthier said.
Gauthier teaches at the Survive Alive House in Milwaukee, where every second and fifth grade Milwaukee Public Schools student is required to take his fire safety class. The kids learn what to do once a fire takes place.
Firefighters say if your house catches on fire, the first thing to do is get low to the ground.
“If you get low to the ground, that's where you can breathe and you can see. Smoke is black and you usually can't see through it,” Gauthier said.
Once you're low, you should check all the doors with the back of your hand. That’s the part of your hand that's most sensitive. If the door is hot, it’s obviously not the right exit. If the door is cool, peek out and check for smoke. If the coast is clear, leave and close the door behind you.
“Fire feeds off of oxygen, so when you leave doors open, it races through your house and it does more damage. By closing the door of the room you just left, it gives you a safer place to go back to in case your exit becomes blocked on the way out,” Gauthier said.
If you're trapped in the room, use a window to yell for help. That way someone else can call 911 or grab a ladder to help you get out. It's also the first clue to responding firefighters that someone was inside.
“We don't typically recommend that people jump out of windows. In the city of Milwaukee, a typical response time for a fire is three to five minutes. If you can stay at the window, stick your head out the window and get that fresh air, when we get there, we can typically get people out pretty quickly,” Gauthier said.
It's important that once you're out of a burning home, that you have a meeting place for your family, like a light pole. That will make it easier to determine if everyone is accounted for.
“The sooner we find out the whole family is out of the house, the sooner we can just go take care of the fire,” Gauthier said.
Preparation also helps. Come up with an escape plan with two ways out of any room and discuss it with family.
The primary reason, though, why people aren't able to escape a fire on time is because there were no working smoke detectors to provide early warning. In the last 10 years in Milwaukee, Gauthier says, there have been no fatalities from fires where people had smoke detectors in their homes.
“It's pretty much a proven fact, at least in our city, having those smoke detectors is really the key to keeping your family safe and getting them out safely,” Gauthier said.
The Milwaukee Fire Department has a program that gives out smoke detectors for free. If you need a smoke detector, you can call the hotline at 414-286-8980. Firefighters will personally install a smoke detector at your house to make sure it works.