There’s a Filipino saying that goes: “Mabuti na ang manakawan kaysa masunugan.”
Roughly translated, it means “It’s better for a house to be ransacked, than for it to be gutted by fire.”
This saying holds true. Thieves can’t wipe out your belongings and turn your lifelong investments into ashes. A fire chooses no status, no position, no race—it just consumes. It does not distinguish between object and life—it simply burns.
With careful planning and wise purchases, fires can be prevented and lives can be saved. Here are a few tips on surviving a fire and fireproofing your home.
Fire Survival Tips
As with any life-threatening situation, presence of mind is key. As hard as it is not to panic, you must try to stay as calm as possible so your head won’t be clouded.
If the fire started out small, a fire extinguisher should do the trick, so it is best to learn how to operate a fire extinguisher upon purchase. Out of control kitchen fires (like a flaming frying pan without intentionally flambéing something) can be easily smothered by placing a cover on it. Remember: no oxygen, no fire.
Always remember that smoke rises, so drop to the floor and crawl towards the nearest exit. Asphyxiation—or suffocating—due to smoke is one of the biggest and most fatal risks when encountering a fire, so do not forget to grab a piece of cloth or pillow cover to tie around your nose and mouth.
If possible, run a blanket or bath towel over some water and wrap it around yourself before making your way out of the burning room.
If by any chance your clothing caught on fire, DO NOT RUN. Remember that wind fans the fire! It is best to do the experts’ advice of STOP, DROP, and ROLL.
Fireproofing your belongings
Fireproofing starts at construction.
Choosing a fireproof or treated material will definitely lessen the likelihood of fast-spreading fires. In some countries today, building codes require the use of fireproof materials. In the Philippines, fireproof or treated lumber and concrete blocks are also available in the market, albeit on the slightly more expensive side.
There’s this thing that experts call “passive fire protection” (PFP). According to buildings.com, here are the areas to focus on for PFP.
First area is structural fire protection. According to buildings.com, “Structural fire protection guards essential structural components, such as structural steel and joint systems, from the effects of fire.” This can be done by fireproofing materials with the use of spray-on films called intumescents, or using “endothermic materials like gypsum-based plasters and cementitious products, mineral wool wraps and insulation, and fireproofing cladding, or building the structure out of concrete products.”
The next area is compartmentation. This includes “fire barriers, firewalls, fire partitions, smoke barriers” such as “fire-rated walls, floors, and ceilings—often made of concrete, combination wood, gypsum, or masonry.” Establishing said features in any home or office will slow down the spread of fire.
“These walls are built structurally stable, so even if there is collapse of a building on either side of the wall, the wall will remain standing,” says Bill McHugh to buildings.com.
McHugh is the Executive Director of Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) in Chicago.
The third area is what they call “opening protection.” This means “fire doors and windows are installed in an opening of a fire barrier to maintain its fire resistance.” Opening protection also requires the installation of fire and smoke dampers in duct systems.
PFP also showed emphasis on using fire-resistant (or fire-retardant) wires and cables in homes and offices. Electrical issues are some of the most common fire causes. The use fire-retardant wires and cables will lessen the likelihood of a short circuit or spark to start a fire.
Preparing your home means equipping it with fire/smoke detection devices. A standard smoke detector is important and has saved countless lives. In some countries, it is against the law to not have a smoke detector in your home or office. It is also against the law to remove a detector from a facility.
In the Philippines, homes are being built everyday without the legal necessity of arming it with a smoke alarm or sprinkler system. However, business establishments and condominiums have to abide by fire safety rules implemented by the law and this means the construction of unobstructed fire exits, smoke alarms in fire-prone areas, a sprinkler in every room, and provision of fire extinguishers.
Most experts also emphasize on redundant fireproofing, which means purchasing smoke/fire alarms and detectors, use of fireproof materials, and installation of sprinkler systems. One can never be too sure.
Speaking of fire extinguishers—it is best to learn how to use it upon purchase, as this author have mentioned earlier. It is also not enough that you know how to use it—your entire household (whether it’s your family or roommates) should know how to operate it effectively.
Do not forget to also check the “expiration date” on the fire extinguishers before buying. Fire extinguishers do not normally expire per se, but most kinds do need to be refilled or recharged every six to seven years for maintenance reasons. Even if the canister doesn’t have any “expiration date” on it, it won’t last forever. It is best to take note of the date of purchase so you’ll know when to have your canisters refilled.
There’s another saying that goes: “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
When faced with fire and armed with basic knowledge and survival techniques, lives and dreams can be saved.