Closing doors could save your life in a fire

Updated: May. 11, 2017 at 4:09 PM CDT
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(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)

(WAFF) - You never want to wake up to the sound of smoke detectors. But if it happens, one decision you make before going to sleep could mean life or death for you and your loved ones.

We all think it will never happen to us. Your sleep interrupted by a piercing alarm, intense flames and thick black smoke choking your lungs. For most survivors, the smoke lingers in their memories.

"Back in the 1980s, you had about 17 minutes on average to get out of a fire. But now, thanks to how homes are built, because of the materials they use and how quickly they burn, the window is only about three minutes.

But now, fortunately, the decision of closing your bedroom door before you go to sleep may give your family life-saving seconds to get out during a fire.

Firefighters like Huntsville Capt. Frank McKenzie have long known a closed bedroom door keeps smoke out and the heat away.

"By closing those doors, you are buying yourself more time," McKenzie said. Like I said, if you open that door, it's just more oxygen. It's going to pull that fire into toward you. So by closing those doors, you can save yourself more time to be able to get out."

And now, new research proves sleeping with the door shut can keep you alive.

"Those valuable moments when you're trying to figure out what you need to do, understand whether you can get out or not. And if you can't, that barrier between you and the fire is critical," said Steve Kerber.

Kerber has carried out hundreds of fire studies with Underwriter's Laboratories. He travels the country working with fire departments.

"It's critical. It's a really simple message and it could save your life in a fire," he said.

In a test, Kerber set a small flaming fire on a couch in a home with an open floor plan. There were two bedrooms upstairs. One had the door open and one had the door closed. Smoke started pouring into the room with the door open within a minute and a half. At three minutes, that room was filled with toxic, thick, black smoke.

"You wouldn't be able to see the hand in front of your face," said Kerber. "You wouldn't be able to breath."

At five minutes, the entire house was pitch black. But in the room with the door shut, you could still see and there was some air to breathe.

At a state of the art training facility in Virginia. using two photojournalists and six cameras covering all angles, including the view from a firefighter, a fire captain lit a flare and set a small fire using wooden crates and straw. As the fire started to grow, he shut the window and the door.

There was barely any smoke in the hallway outside the room, and you could breathe. Inside, the closed door changed the flow of dangerous heat and toxic gases in the fire.

"You can have quite a significant fire on the other side of that door, but because the door is closed, it's giving you those seconds or even minutes that you may need to find an alternative way out," said Capt. Taylor Goodman.

In a fire, it's the smoke that often kills long before the flames ever reach you.

If you think your child won't sleep with the door closed, experts recommend that you let them fall asleep, then come back and close the door once they are asleep before you go to bed, giving your family some peace of mind.

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