Every second counts

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

Just how quickly does fire spread, in a typical home? How long would a family have to escape, once the smoke detector sounds the alarm?

Those were the questions behind the BWG Fire & Emergency Service's Fire Prevention Week demonstration, held at Henderson Memorial Park during Pumpkin Fest.

This year's Fire Prevention Week theme is Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out  - calling on residents to develop and practice a home escape plan in case of fire, with 2  routes out of every room, if possible.

To demonstrate the urgency, and underline the fact that “Every Second Counts,” BWG Fire built two identical rooms out of wood  and drywall, and filled each with similar furnishings culled from Value Village – a couch, chairs, wooden table, lamps and covers.

One room was protected by an installed sprinkler system.

The other, like most residential units, wasn't.

To demonstrate “a contents fire that would be in anyone's house,” a fire was started in a paper-filled waste basket in the unprotected room, at 11:52 a.m. After 15 seconds, the smoke alarm sounded. By 11:53 a.m., the temperature in the room had reached 120 degrees F, and the fire had spread to the loveseat and recliner. At 11:54 a.m., the temperature was 200 degrees, and black smoke billowed from the structure.

Flashover – when everything within the room reached a critical temperature and burst into flame – was reached at 11:55 a.m., only 3 minutes and 15 seconds after the fire began.

“If that was your bedroom or family room, you have to be out of the house in 3 minutes,” said Fire Chief Kevin Gallant, as firefighters extinguished the blaze.

“Every second counts when you're evacuating your home,” said Fire Prevention Officer Nicole Higgins. “Please sit down with your kids, your older family members - everyone needs to be practising the drill.”

The next demonstration proved that installing a sprinkler system provides protection. Sixteen seconds after the wastebasket caught fire in the sprinkler-protected room, the smoke alarm sounded. The fire quickly spread to a flammable curtain  - but only 1 minute and fifty-seven seconds after the first flames, the sprinklers deployed and quickly put out the blaze, with minimal damage.

“We put fifteen times more water in a room (with fire hoses) than a sprinkler system would do,” said Chief Gallant. A quick glance at the two rooms was enough to prove his point: Almost everything in the sprinkler-protected room was intact, although a little soggy. In the unprotected room, fire, smoke and water damage left little that could be salvaged.

“In Vancouver, residential sprinklers are required,” said Higgins. “They have yet to have a fire death in a residential home.”