SFMO: Smoke Inhalation is More Dangerous than Burns in Home Fires

Toxic Smoke Can Quickly Overcome Residents, Inhibiting Their Escape
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 | 09:00am

NASHVILLE – While smoke alarms have always been a factor in the survivability of a home fire, their importance has never been greater. Most fire fatalities are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation. As the toxicity and speed of smoke increases, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) is sharing tips on how you can keep your family safe from the toxic smoke and fumes produced by a home fire.

When a fire grows inside a building, it will deplete most of the available oxygen which slows the burning process. This slowed rate of fire spread leads to incomplete combustion, resulting in the release of toxic gases like hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. As oxygen levels lower and the proportion of toxic chemicals rise, survivability chances become diminished.

Smoke is usually the first element of a fire to affect residents. Often the toxic gases that comprise smoke incapacitate so quickly that people aren’t able to make it to a perfectly accessible exit. The crucial early warning of a smoke alarm can provide occupants with invaluable extra seconds to escape.

According to a UL report, smoke is more toxic now than ever as homes are filled with more synthetic, chemical-coated materials that release toxins when burned. This, combined with construction factors like open floor plans and new construction materials, leave occupants with under four minutes to escape.

The Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office urges Tennesseans to implement the following guidelines to help protect themselves and their loved ones from the devastating effects of fire and smoke:

  • Install working smoke alarms in every sleeping area, outside of every sleeping area, and on every level of your home. If you need working smoke alarms and live in Tennessee, contact your local fire department to see if they participate in the SFMO’s “Get Alarmed, Tennessee!” program.
  • Replace smoke alarms that are 10 years old or older.
  • Close your bedroom door before going to sleep at night. A closed door can slow the spread of deadly smoke and flames, giving you more time to escape.
  • Install working carbon monoxide alarms if your household contains a fuel-burning appliance, fireplace, or has an attached garage.
  • Create a home fire escape plan that details two ways out of every room and a designated outdoor meeting place. Practice the plan with all members of your household. You can download a free home fire escape plan grid on the SFMO’s website.
  • If smoke alarms sound or a fire is discovered in your home, get out fast and stay out. Never go back into a burning building.
  • If you have to escape through smoke, get as low to the ground as possible and go under the smoke to your way out.
  • Once you are out, call the fire department from your meeting place or a neighbor’s house.
  • If people or pets are trapped, notify the fire department and let them handle the rescue efforts. Never go back inside for people, pets, or things.

For more information on how you can keep your family safe from fire, visit tn.gov/fire.