FEATURE: ‘If it was a real fire I would’ve been dead’

Reporter Oliver Pritchard emerging from the smoke.

Reporter Oliver Pritchard emerging from the smoke. - Credit: Archant

Reporter Oliver Pritchard dons a special suit to tackle a smoke house test, but it’s an eye-opener...

Reporter Oliver Pritchard putting on the breathing apparatus before going in.

Reporter Oliver Pritchard putting on the breathing apparatus before going in. - Credit: Archant

The advice from the experts is to get out and stay out, but how quickly could you make sure you and your loved ones were out of danger and standing by in safety as the firefighters went to work?

The team at the Herts Fire & Rescue Service has dubbed June ‘Escape Month’ and is urging everyone living in the county to take the time to plan how they would get out of their house in the event of a fire.

Stevenage Fire Station commander Mark Barber said: “It’s vitally important that people plan an escape route in the unlikely event of a fire.

“You might think that you won’t have a problem because it’s your house, but just try getting outside safely and quickly in the middle of the night when it’s pitch black and there’s smoke everywhere.

Oliver emerging with his dummy, which is looking rather worse for wear.

Oliver emerging with his dummy, which is looking rather worse for wear. - Credit: Archant


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“It’s a lot more difficult than you might think and you’d probably waste vital time trying to find a route out.

“People are always being told to lock all their windows and doors to prevent burglaries – but at the same time they need to know where the keys are so they can get out quickly if they need to.

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“We recommend that everyone plans a route and practices it so they know what to do in the event of a fire.”

The fire service invited reporter Oliver Pritchard down to its station in St George’s Way to experience a smoke-filled environment at first hand.

After being given a tour of the station’s smoke house, they filled it to the brim with non-toxic fumes – so much so that you struggled to see your hand in front of your face.

“The room was totally filled with smoke. I couldn’t seen anything,” Oliver said.

“Before I went in I thought it wouldn’t be a problem because I’d been in the smoke house 10 minutes before and I assumed I’d remember the layout.

“I couldn’t have been more wrong. I constantly bumped into things and couldn’t see anything.

“It took me about 20 minutes to find the dummy, with a lot of help and guidance from the firefighters.

“The route out wasn’t any easier because I was completely disorientated.

“All I can say is you might think you know a safe way out but you’re probably wrong.

“I was wearing breathing apparatus and the fumes weren’t toxic but if it was for real there’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have escaped.

“It was very exciting going in with all the kit on but it made me realise how important it is to plan a way out of your house in a fire.”

Mark explained how smoke makes a previously familiar place much more difficult to safely navigate.

He said the purpose of the exercise was to show how difficult it is, even in a familiar setting, to find your way out in a fire.

“We hope this will demonstrate to people just how disorientating it can be in a fire,” said Mark.

“I hope this will send out a message to everyone living in the area of the importance of having a plan and how terrible the consequences can be if you can’t get out of your house.”

It only takes three or four breaths of toxic smoke to make a person unconscious – which could be easily consumed by someone struggling to get out of their house, he said.

“The safety of our residents is paramount,” said Councillor Richard Thake, who is responsible for community protection matters at Herts County Council.

“The best way to stay safe in the event of a fire is to get out and stay out,” he said.

“The quicker you can get out the less chance of damage from toxic smoke. Having an escape plan might save you vital minutes in the event of a fire.

“We want to make people aware that property is replaceable and lives are not. Our advice is not to tackle the fire, get out of the property, call us and stay out.”

If you become trapped and can’t open a window the fire service advises that you break the glass in the bottom corner and make the jagged edges safe with a towel or blanket.

If you are on the ground floor, go out of a window. Use bedding to cushion your fall and lower yourself, but never jump.

If you can’t get out, get everyone into one room – preferably with a window and a phone – and put bedding or towels at the door to block the smoke.

In the event of a fire, people should ring 999 as soon as possible.

The fire service offers a free Home Fire Safety visit where they will advise people on escape routes and smoke alarms.

For more, and to book one, visit www.hertsdirect.org/firesafety or call 0300 123 4046.

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