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Fire Prevention Week: Get Out, Stay Out

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: October 08, 2018 06:30 PM

This week is Fire Prevention Week, and WDIO along with Lake Superior College, Per Mar Security Services, and Heritage Window and Door is spreading the word to help keep your family and property safe. Eyewitness News spoke with firefighters and health officials about the dangers of going back into a building.

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As a parent, sibling, or spouse, you would do anything and everything to keep your loved one out of harm’s way. Imagine being in an emergency when your home catches on fire. Getting you, your family, and pets out of the burning home as quickly as possible is a human instinct.

“A lot of people have the tendency to get out and realize either somebody is unaccounted for, or something is unaccounted for and they feel that urge to want to go back in," Chris Clark, the fire marshal for Virginia Fire Department said.

Although it may seem like common sense to not go back inside a burning home, that common sense flies out the window when someone you love is caught in that fire.

Going back inside is a selfless and brave act, but with fatal consequences. People have died by going back inside to attempt saving someone.

Clark has seen firsthand how people react in those situations.

"Especially if there's other family members trapped. They might know where that location is and they make that attempt to do that rescue,” Clark said. “Unfortunately again, that smoke and that heat is deadly.”

"Once you're in there, that smoke overwhelms you and you become very disoriented and you may not find your way out again,” Dr. JeRay Johnson, a pulmonary specialist for St. Luke’s, said.

As a former firefighter, Johnson knows the dangers of structure fires.

"Most fire deaths are caused by an inhalation injury of some sort,” Johnson said.

The toxins and chemicals hiding in our homes cause the fire to spread faster and makes the smoke more lethal than ever before.

"They can become disoriented very quickly and succumb very quickly to the effects of smoke and carbon monoxide,” Johnson said.

The UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute made a video demonstrating the changes furnishings have had on flashover times, the time it takes for the fire to spread.

The experiment was done with two side by side living room fires. The fires are started with a candle at the same time and at the same location in the room.

One room has natural furnishings used in homes decades ago like cotton and wool. The room completely catches on fire after 29 minutes and 30 seconds.

The other room has synthetic furnishings found in modern homes like plastic and polyester. Astonishingly, the room completely catches on fire in just over 3 and a half minutes.

"There are other poisons in the smoke like hydrogen cyanide that are there as well from the products of combustion,” Johnson said.

"To try to enter that environment, that's a foolish, foolish, choice to do. And again, our emotions drive us,” Clark said.

Even the most trained and experienced go back in to save their loved ones. That’s what Steven Gillitzer, a retired fire captain from Hibbing did. 

Gillitzer was in his home with his wife and three grandchildren in December 2017 when a fire unexpectedly broke out.

He was able to get one of his grandchildren out of the home but he went back inside to rescue everyone else. Unfortunately, they never made it out.

"It is always difficult for emergency services when there is a loss of life. No matter who or what it is,” Erik Jankila, a fire chief for the Hibbing Fire Department said.

Jankila knew Gillitzer. He had worked with him at the department.

The tragic incident is a heartbreaking but real example of why going back inside doesn’t guarantee you and your family will make it back out alive. As civilians, we aren’t prepped or trained to go inside a burning structure like firefighters are.

"They have breathing apparatuses and gear on that prevents the damage so they can go in and do searches,” Johnson said.

Firefighters put on over 70 pounds of specialized flame resistant equipment that protects them from inhaling dangerous toxins from the smoke. The gear they put on also protects them from the flames.

"That's our job and if we can rescue somebody in a survival space, we're going to do everything that we possibly can to do so,” Clark said.

Firefighters are dedicated and prepared to help us in the most unpredictable and scariest times of our lives. That’s why they don’t want civilians going back inside a burning structure.

Once you’re out, stay out. Time is crucial during a crisis. 
 

Credits

Alejandra Palacios

Copyright 2018 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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