When it’s not a false alarm

Emily Gibbens, Opinion writer

Everyone gets so sick of their fire alarms going off constantly for drills or false alarms. Last year, I lived in Johnstone Hall and whether it was someone burning popcorn or the university practicing fire safety, it seemed as if we were outside in the middle of the night multiple times each month.

I heard some students say that they just ignored the alarms and stayed in their rooms during drills. But no matter how bothersome or frustrating it got, I always got up, threw a jacket and shoes on, and hurried out the door. Some couldn’t comprehend why I wouldn’t just ignore it too, so I could stay in the comfort of my warm bed. There was one simple reason for that.

Sometimes it is not a drill.

This weekend, I had my first bad experience with fire. While at a friend’s apartment, a pan of hot cooking oil started smoking and within seconds, it burst into flames.

As many people ran out of the apartment building, some chose to stay inside or casually walk out minutes after the alarms started because they just assumed it was a drill. This was a real fire with an injured person, firetrucks and ambulances, but some residents were still oblivious to the fact that the alarms were not for practice. 

Fire is such an unpredictable, dangerous force. It can destroy anything in a matter of minutes. Because it can get out of control so quickly, the best thing to do after an uncontainable fire has started is to evacuate.

It was an even more difficult situation because it was a grease fire. A regular fire can be put out with water, but that isn’t the case with a fire containing oil. Throwing water on a grease fire only makes matters worse, so that was out of the question. To contain a grease fire, a lid is supposed to be put on the pot to suffocate the flames, but it was past the point of being contained by a lid.

A former firefighter informed me that if that situation was to ever occur again, use a cookie sheet or a pizza pan instead of the lid to press the flames down. It is larger, sturdier object that would have a better chance of getting the job done.

Remember, it is never too early to call 911. Even for a small fire, it is better safe than sorry. Trained professionals will know how to handle the situation better than you, and the operator should be able to give you the best advice on how to treat the situation.

In an instance where you are the person to call 911, you must stay calm. Being hysterical in such a serious situation doesn’t help anyone. The operator has to be able to understand you to be helpful.

The biggest thing I learned from this is  things are replaceable, but people aren’t.

If the fire is no longer able to be contained, don’t try to put it out unless you have a fire extinguisher. Don’t try to be the hero and run back in. Don’t take time to grab your things. Risking your life is not worth anything that you could potentially lose in the fire. Just get out of the building.

There are a few steps to take to avoid this type of thing happening to you.

Have a working smoke detector in all rooms of your apartment or house. Check the batteries regularly. If they go out, replace them, don’t just take them out.

It is also so important for you to know where the nearest fire                          extinguisher is. I would never think about something like that when going to a friend’s house, but now, it will be forever a precaution I think of.

If you live in the dorms or an apartment, learn the quickest, safest route to evacuate in case of an emergency like a fire. If you live on an upper floor, or there is only one exit, consider getting a fire ladder in case you ever get blocked from your doorway, and using the window to escape is the only option.

Don’t wait until something bad happens to learn about fire safety. Always take preventative measures so an accident doesn’t have to happen at all. But be prepared because once a fire starts, you only have seconds to make a big decision.

Emily Gibbens is an opinion writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]