Things I Wish I Knew When Going Through a Fire

by Becky BlantonMay 10, 2017

“One of the number one things most house fire survivors say is, ‘I didn’t know how fast a fire could move,'” said Anthony C. Tornetta the Senior Manager of Media Relations for The American Red Cross. “Universally, all experts agree that you have just about two minutes to escape a fire before it’s too late to get out. Most survivors say they just have time to think, ‘It’s a house fire and it’s time to go. This is real, and I need to go,'” he said. “You don’t have time for much more if you want to live.”

People wish they knew there is no time to save anything but themselves in a house fire. Then they wish they knew how to cope with the things that follow: finding housing, dealing with the insurance company, replacing all their furnishings and clothes, finding a new home, going to work, food, clothing, dealing with their pets. Those are all things no one thinks about, but wishes they had known about a house fire.
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Tornetta works with house fire survivors on a regular basis and hears both the miraculous and the devastating stories of fire survivors every day. Each story has its lessons, but most boil down to one important lesson: Get out and stay out.

“A few months ago I responded to a fire where a 10-year old child had gotten out of the burning house safely,” he said. “But he couldn’t find his father, who had recently had surgery. He was afraid his father hadn’t gotten out of the house. So he went back in. His father had gotten out just fine. The boy didn’t know that. He went back in but never came back out alive. The lesson is ‘Get out, stay out,'” he said. “You can replace an iPhone, a stuffed animal or a television. You can’t replace a life.”

“The Red Cross responds to about 64,000 disasters a year, and to a home fire about every 8 minutes,” he said. While many people assume electrical issues are the number one cause of fires, they’re not. “The leading cause of house fires and deaths is cooking fires,” he said. “We see that heating equipment causes about 1-in-5 home fire deaths.”

The only thing harder than surviving a fire is often surviving the aftermath of the fire. “People often get out with nothing,” Tornetta said. “They need food, clothing, a place to stay, a place to be safe.” The Red Cross helps with all that and more – including helping families find a place to house their pets. “Pets are family,” he said. “And we help them too.”

Surviving After a Fire

Some of the things people say they wish they knew are more about “how to survive after the fire.” Fires are mentally, emotionally, and financially devastating. The Red Cross has a free guide to surviving a fire that includes detailed information and tips on surviving the fire and the post-fire events.

The Red Cross

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Most of the time when there’s a fire in a community, the Red Cross responds along with police and fire. “Sometimes a firefighter, or neighbor or the police will alert us. Sometimes it’s the family or a neighbor. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an affluent neighborhood or not, we respond. We’ll be there for you within minutes of the disaster. We help with finding you a safe place to stay, food, clothing and emotional help… it’s a humbling, lonely time and we’re there for the victims,” he said.

The Red Cross does a lot for house and apartment fire victims during and after the fire, but they do a lot before the fire as well.

“Our mission is to prevent fires,” he said. “We want to make sure every home in America has working smoke alarms. If you can’t afford an alarm, we’ll give you one free. We plan to hand out 100,000 alarms during fire prevention week and the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign in October, but we hand out and install fire alarms every month.” The Red Cross works with fire departments around the country, and anyone who needs an alarm, but who can’t afford one, can contact the Red Cross or their local fire department to get a free alarm, and installation as well.

Download and use the Red Cross Emergency App

Some of the features of the app:

  • Emergency alerts are available for the user’s location and to monitor where friends and family live.
  • Users can turn alerts on and off to fit their situation.
  • A single map provides shelter locations and weather information.
  • Users can easily toggle between English and Spanish.
  • Information is included on emergency first aid for situations such as heat-related emergencies and water safety for lakes and beaches.
  • The app also covers what to do in emergencies that affect a large area, such as mudslides and snowstorms.
  • Pre-loaded content ensures guidance from Red Cross experts is available even without mobile connectivity.
  • The home fires section provides information on how to prevent fires, protect loved ones and what to do after a fire occurs.
  • The make-a-plan feature helps households draw up their individual disaster plans.

If you have children, Monster Guard is a fun, interactive game for kids that teaches them how to react in an emergency while they have fun.

Don’t wait until you’ve survived a fire to prepare for it, Tornetta said. “Be prepared. If you don’t know what to do, contact us. We’re here to help.”


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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.

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