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Smoke Alarms Can Prevent Death from Third-Degree Burns or Smoke Inhalation

Two deadly fires in the past week are perfect examples of why working smoke detectors are literally life-saving items that every home or apartment should have.

First, a fire in a high-rise apartment building in Philadelphia left two firefighters hospitalized, one in serious condition. The fire department responded to the early-morning blaze at an 18-story Philadelphia Housing Authority building and cleared scores of residents out. Smoke and flames poured from windows on the building’s eighth floor before the fire was doused.

The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania helped about 150 residents with shelter, clothing, and food. The good news is that the worst outcome for any of the tenants was damage to their apartments and property–but nobody suffered bad smoke inhalation or third-degree burns.

But if the fire department did not arrive so quickly, this situation could have been an absolute disaster. Because smoke and heat rise, the people who lived on the ten floors above the eighth-floor fire were in mortal danger. The possibility of rapid, deadly smoke inhalation is much greater on floors located above a fire–a tall building acts like a chimney would on a fireplace, funneling the smoke upwards! And after just a few seconds of breathing in smoke, people succumb to the poisonous elements and they pass out, and just moments later could be dead, even if the fire is still far away from them.

So the point is this: People who live in apartments should always make sure that the superintendent regularly checks the smoke and fire alarms in the hallways to make sure they are working. Also, inside each apartment there should be at least one smoke detector as well as a carbon-monoxide detector. And if you notice a fire on a floor below you, get to a stairwell that is away from the source of the fire and get down those stairs. It is this simple: If you get below the fire, you probably live. If you get trapped above the fire, you likely die.

Remember, smoke detectors help so much because it’s not just what goes on in your apartment that you have to worry about–it is also the actions of your surrounding neighbors that can affect your health and safety.

In a second tragic fire this week–this one in a neighborhood outside Dallas–six young adults were killed in a fire at a mobile home shortly after a birthday celebration that lasted into the early-morning hours.

The blaze broke out at about 5:30 a.m. in a manufactured home. Three people escaped from the burning home. A neighbor called 911 after a woman ran to the door begging for help. One of those who escaped, 18-year-old Cody Rubalcaba, said he was able to help some of his other friends out of the home, but the blaze then became too strong. “When they told me that six were dead, I started bawling. I tried to save as many as I could, and I couldn’t even get the other six out.”

Rubalcaba said he and friends had gone to bed after partying, but he awoke early Monday morning coughing and seeing flames coming from the master bedroom. He broke a window, cutting his arm, and crawled out to safety. He then tried to go back in to save his friends. “I was like, ‘Follow my voice, there is a window I busted open, go underneath the pool table and I will be right here waiting for you,'” he said.

He was able to help get two friends out safely, but said he couldn’t help the others. “I called for their names, but no one would respond back to me,” Rubalcaba said. “All you could hear were flames burning.”

“It’s just a shock to see a house totally engulfed,” said neighborhood resident Paul Woods. “Especially when the people are still inside. There’s nothing you can do; literally nothing. The flames are pouring out and here’s no way you can get anywhere close to the house.”

Shirley Culberhouse, who lives about seven houses down the street from the home that burned, told The Associated Press that it “was a group of boys who had moved in, and they were having a party.” Another neighbor, auto mechanic Michael Brennan, said the party woke him up. “About 2:15 a.m., the noise woke me up,” he said. “There was shouting. Then there were cars pulling out, and I was sort of waiting for the sheriff to show up when the fire happened.”

In this case, if the homeowner–whose daughter was having the party without the homeowner present–had working smoke detectors in the home, it is quite possible that more of the victims could have gotten out of the house before it was too late.

So please take these two examples to heart, and make sure your smoke detectors are working in your home.