The Warwick, Rhode Island Station nightclub fire of 2003 tells a sad story of what can happen when you don’t know what to do during a fire in a public building. This tragic fire, which was started by concert pyrotechnics, claimed the lives of 100 people and injured 230 more. Smoke and heat were responsible for some of the deaths and injuries, but the stampede, which blocked the building’s main exit, caused many more deaths and injuries.
Here at the Farmers’ Almanac, we are big believers in fire safety. Here are the things you should know to protect yourself, not only in public buildings but during other kinds of fires, too.
What To Do if a Fire Starts in a Public Building
- If you notice a fire, the first thing to do is pull the first fire alarm that you see as you make your way towards an exit.
- Feel doors for heat to make sure that there isn’t fire on the other side and stay low to the ground if there is smoke, keeping a hand on a wall so that you don’t lose your way.
- Be aware of your surroundings and don’t panic. In many instances — as with the Station nightclub fire — people panic and head towards the main exit, which causes a deadly crush. If this happens, don’t hesitate to look for alternate escape routes like secondary doors, fire escapes or even a window that you can break.
- Once you’re clear of the fire, call emergency responders, if they’re not already on scene, and then wait for further instructions from authorities in a safe place.
The Right Way To Put Out a Grease Fire
The best solution for a grease fire is a fire extinguisher, but if you don’t have one handy, simply put a lid on the flaming pan, then turn off the burner or carefully slide the pan to a cool burner. This will seal the pan, starving the fire of oxygen. If you don’t have a lid, use a cookie sheet or another non-flammable covering.
Never ever use water, flour or dish towels to put out a grease fire because these things can either cause explosions or make the fire spread.
What if You’re Caught in a Forest Fire When Camping?
- It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to outrun a major forest fire, so be on the lookout for safe places to take cover, like open clearings away from trees, or bodies of water.
- If you’re unsure where to start looking for cover, remember that fire travels more quickly in the direction that the wind is blowing and it travels faster up hills. Head into the wind and downhill if possible.
- If you can’t find a body of water, look for a depression — without brush or dry leaves — that you can lie down in. If you have a wet blanket or some wet clothing, try to cover yourself with that. Otherwise, cover yourself with soil as protection from heat and flames.
- No matter where you take cover, stay low to the ground so that you get as much fresh air as possible. Breathing through a wet cloth can help you avoid breathing in smoke.
Tips for Escaping a Car Fire
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 17 cars catch fire every hour in the United States. Here are some ways to protect yourself:
- If your car catches fire as you’re driving, pull over immediately, exit the vehicle, and keep a safe distance, away from traffic. Don’t open the hood or trunk because this gives the fire more air, making it spread faster.
- Invest a few dollars in a vehicle emergency escape tool. This tool has a small hammer that makes it easier to break a window and you can use it to cut your seatbelt if you’re trapped in the car.
- If you try to use a fire extinguisher, make sure that it is a suitable type for flammable liquids and gases — both Class B and C extinguishers will work.
These days, with all the safety precautions in place at home, in public places and even in your car, dangerous fires are becoming more and more rare. However, it’s still a good idea to educate yourself with these life-saving tips.
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.