When Fire Threatens a Crowd
FIRE is an ugly word to public-event organizers. Each year, fires cause thousands of deaths and horrible injuries. The danger is especially grave when throngs gather in an enclosed space. What can those in charge of concerts, plays, conferences, and other large gatherings do to minimize the risk of fire? What can those who are part of such a crowd do to keep things safe? And if a fire does actually break out, what can be done to increase the chances of survival?
To get some information on these matters, Awake! interviewed a fire official in Ireland. He trains firemen and has had much experience with fires.
When crowds are expected for an event, what can those in charge do to make things safe?
The first step is to make sure that the building you expect to use is safe. There must be enough exits for all in the building to escape quickly if the need arises. Also, each exit must be clearly marked and be free of any obstructions. All corridors and stairways must be kept free of obstacles at all times. Emergency doors should open outward and do so easily.
Seating arrangements may present a challenge in buildings that do not have fixed seats. It is vitally important to arrange the chairs in accord with local fire regulations. Be sure all attendants and ushers know what to do in case of an emergency. Those responsible for safety should know where all the fire extinguishers are and how to use them. It is too late to read instructions after a fire breaks out. Keep in mind, too, that the first priority after initiating evacuation procedures is to call the fire department.
Is there anything those who attend such events can do to improve safety?
Yes indeed! People panic more easily in unfamiliar surroundings. So familiarize yourself with the general layout of the building where the gathering is to be held. Note where the exits and emergency doors are located. Don’t panic. Maintain discipline. Listen carefully to any directions given and follow them. In vacating the building, walk rapidly, but do not run or push.
I cannot overemphasize the need to get out quickly. Most people do not realize how fast fire can spread. Help the elderly and weaker ones if you see that they are having difficulty. Once out of the building, get clear of the exits so as not to block the way for those coming behind you, and after you are out, never try to reenter the building until it is declared safe.
What advice do you have for parents?
In large crowds parents should always keep their small children with them or make sure that they are in the charge of an older, responsible person. During a fire emergency, distraught parents looking through the crowd for their missing children can cause all kinds of problems.
Is the fire danger limited to just its intense heat?
No. Usually it is smoke and toxic gases that kill in a fire. Even in less than lethal concentrations, superheated gases will attack the respiratory organs and nervous systems of those breathing them. This can cause people to act in an irrational manner. When smoke is heavy, cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief. It will not protect from poisonous gases, but it will help keep out larger smoke particles that may cause nausea.
If the smoke is very dense, try to stay by a wall to avoid becoming disoriented. If you cannot see or feel a wall, walk in one direction until you come to one; then follow it until you come to a door or a window. Also, remember that in a smoke-filled room, there is more breathable air near the floor, and you will see better there too.
What can be done if a person’s clothes catch fire?
The worst thing you can do is run. This will only fan the flames. Rather, drop to the ground and roll. This will keep the flames away from your face and hopefully smother the fire.
Any final word for our readers?
I hope you are never in a fire. It is a frightening experience. But if you are caught in one, these few rules will prove helpful. And remember, take the danger of fire seriously. Do not treat it lightly or as a joke. It isn’t.
[Blurb on page 20]
When staying at a hotel, do you always find out where the nearest emergency exit is before retiring for the night?