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Practicing Fire Safety in Public Places

On Sunday, a fire broke out in a three-building shopping mall in the downtown area of Xining City in northwest China. According to media reports there one woman died, while another 12 were rescued and treated in the hospital for injuries mainly caused by smoke inhalation.

The local media also reported that nearly 600 firefighters responded, but rescue work was hindered by the raging fire and waves of choking smoke.

Just because this fire happened in a faraway place like China does not mean that we cannot learn something from it. You see, when we are in public buildings, we must at least have an awareness of our surroundings so that if an emergency does take place, we know which way to go that will get us out of the building quickly. Following the herd of people in whichever direction they are going is not necessarily the best idea!

If you don’t believe me, then consider this story: On February 20, 2003, The Station night club in West Warwick, RI had a fire on its stage that was sparked by pyrotechnics used by the band that was playing at that time. Only as the fire reached the ceiling and smoke began to thicken did people realize this was not part of the act and the fire was uncontrolled. In less than a minute, the entire stage was engulfed in flames, with most of the band members and crew fleeing for the west exit by the stage.

By this time, the night club’s fire alarm system had made everyone aware of the impending danger. But even though there were four possible exits, most people did not use the other exits in the building; instead, most people headed for the front door through which they had entered. The ensuing stampede led to a crush in the narrow hallway leading to that exit, quickly blocking the exit completely and resulting in numerous deaths and injuries among the patrons and staff. Of the 461 people in attendance, 100 died, and about half were injured, either from third-degree burns, smoke inhalation, or trampling.

So the lesson is this: Whenever you are in a mall, a movie theater, a government office, or any other public building, make sure to find more than one emergency exit that is near you, before you go about your activities. This gives you the best chance to escape in case of fire or other emergency because you have options–you won’t have to rely on other people’s actions to show you where an exit might be. This could mean the difference between life and death!

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