I had the opportunity yesterday to talk with one of the firefighters who was on Truck 14 the night that a family of six and a dog had to be rescued from a multi-family dwelling. The fire was in the apartment below theirs, and the only escape route was from a window. When Engine 14 arrived, they commenced fighting the fire on the second floor, while the truck crew focused on the victims. After a momentary discussion at the back of the truck, the decision was made to throw the 28’ extension ladder. The ladder hit the sill perfectly, and the jumpseat firefighter was up the ladder immediately. Seconds later, the first feet appeared out the window. While evacuating children, the firefighter at the top of the ladder had instructed the father to shut the door, and place a mattress against the door. The firefighter told me that when they returned the next day to look at the incident in daylight, that the fire had burnt through the door and the mattress. Truck 14-A received a Lifesave Award for this rescue, but the firefighter stated that the engine crew was as much a part of the rescue as those bringing the people down the ladder.
My question is what would you do if faced with this same situation? It would be nice to leave through the front door, but what if your only escape route is via a third or fourth floor window? Climbing out of a window is difficult at best, even when you do not have a fire pushing you to get out. Smoke obscures visibility, making the exit via a window even more precarious. If trapped in a bedroom, you first need to close the door and turn on the bedroom light. To slow smoke from entering the room, take blankets or clothing and stuff them under the door. You then need to get the window open. If the window opens easily, you need to clear the curtains and screen out of the window. If there is difficulty opening the window, then you will have to break out as much of the window as possible. If the fire and smoke have entered your room, then you may need to hang from the windowsill and drop to the ground. If the room is clear, you may be able to stay in the room a bit longer, realizing that when you open the window you have made a ventilation opening that the fire will want to come to. You will want to notify people on the ground that you are in that bedroom, whether you yell, throw something out the window, or call 9-1-1 on your cell phone.
I have talked in the past about those who live on upper floors purchasing a rescue ladder. It is important that you practice with this ladder. Learn how to deploy it out of a window. Also, you will want to climb the ladder from the ground up to get an idea of what being on this ladder will be like. I would be very careful about climbing out of an upper floor window, when just practicing, but if possible, go to a first floor window, deploy the ladder and climb out from there. The point is that you need a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A would be to leave through the door. Plan B would be to leave through a window. If you and your family have thought through this ahead of time, it won’t be totally new to you and your family, when a fire is raging below.