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FSEG LOGO FIRE SAFETY ENGINEERING GROUP The Queen's Anniversary Prize 2002 The British Computer Society IT Awards 2001 The European IST Prize Winner 2003 The Guardian University Awards Winner 2014
The Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities
UNIVERSITY of GREENWICH


FIRE SAFETY TIPS

On these pages you will find some safety advice.  Readers should note that all fire situations are different, this means that it is difficult to give fail-proof general advice.   Readers should note that other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.  However, the information contained on these pages may prove useful in some situations. Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
 


SMOKE HOODS 

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A smoke hood is a device to assist people in escaping safely from within a burning structure. It is worn over the head and if correctly donned, the device protects the users’ heads from heat and thermal radiation, the eyes from harmful irritant gases produced by fire (for example Hydrogen Chloride (HCl) gas) and, through the use of a filtration system, can provide filtered air relatively free of harmful narcotic (for example Carbon Monoxide (CO)) and irritant gases produced by fire. The filter will only provide protection for a limited period, typically several minutes. Also, smoke hoods typically are a ‘use once device’ - once packaging is opened, they cannot be resealed for later use.

There are many types of smoke hood available, with varying operating characteristics offering different levels of protection. The old adage, ‘buyer beware’ is appropriate when it comes to purchasing a smoke hood. It is essential that you check that the smoke hood will actually filter out CO, the main killer gas in fire smoke. Beware, as some safety devices currently on the market that claim to be smoke hoods do not filter out CO.

Smoke hoods have application in a variety of different fire environments ranging from high-rise office buildings to domestic dwellings. Because some smoke hoods can easily be carried in briefcases or handbags, they can also be used in hotel, public transport (overland rail and underground light rail), passenger ship and aircraft fires.

My wife and I each have a smoke hood at home stored by our bedside. I also prefer to carry a smoke hood when I fly and when I stay in hotels. However, the general use of smoke hoods on aircraft by passengers is a controversial and complex issue. I believe that my smoke hood could provide me with a few minutes of extra protection from toxic and irritant fire products during an evacuation. It would give me a vital few extra minutes to get out of a burning aircraft or hotel. However, to offer that added protection, the smoke hood has to be relatively easy to use. It is no good if the smoke hood provides its user with a couple of minutes of extra protection, but then delays their evacuation because it takes them five to 10 minutes to figure out how to use it and another several minutes to put it on. This time would be better spent getting out!

Unfortunately, a number of smoke hoods that are currently available, while they may be effective in offering the level of protection required, are not easy to put on correctly and so require the user to practice their use. This makes many of the standard off-the-shelf smoke hoods impractical for use as a general passenger safety device on-board aircraft.

Another potential problem with the general use of smoke hoods on board aircraft is that as they cover the entire head of the user, it is difficult to hear once you have put one on. So wearing a smoke hood might make it difficult to hear safety instructions issued by aircraft crew. However, proper use of the smoke hood would mean that you only put the smoke hood on when it was actually needed i.e. when the smoke and heat levels were getting severe, or when you were caught in an exit queue, not simply at the start of an evacuation. For aircraft passengers, such as myself, who know how to use off-the-shelf smoke hoods and who regularly practice donning the smoke hood, I believe it is a good idea. Ideally, manufactures will eventually develop a smoke hood that is easy to don, is small and light and can be used quickly and easily by people without the need for regular practice.

As far as costs are concerned, you should be able to purchase a good quality smoke hood for well under £100 ($US180). If you are considering purchasing a smoke hood, here are several tips that may assist you in selecting the right type of device:

The smoke hood should:

1) Offer protection from the main lethal fire gases, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Cyanide, Hydrogen Chloride, etc.

2) Offer at least 15 minutes of protection from high concentrations of these lethal fire gases.

3) Be tested to an appropriate national standard such as the European Standard EN 403.

4) Provide a good neck seal to keep out lethal gases and particulate matter.

5) Allow good visibility when donned as you will need to be able to see as much as possible.

6) Be made of a heat resistant material to offer protection from elevated temperature and completely cover the user’s head.

7) Be easy to put on and have clear instructions for proper use. Owners should aim to be able to don the smoke hood correctly in around 10 seconds (as measured from the time of opening packaging to putting it on correctly). Avoid devices that need to be assembled, for example that require the user to screw the filter into the mask.

8) Have a long shelf life - make sure that it is going to last for several years if kept in its original packaging and stored correctly.

9) Be small and easy to carry when packed - if it is too large to carry you will soon lose interest in carrying it with you when travelling.

10) Finally, make sure you purchase two devices so that you can practice donning with one of them. Remember that once opened they will lose their filtration abilities rapidly and so cannot be used at a later time.

You can find a host of different smoke hoods on the web, simply google ‘smoke hood’.
 

SURVIVING AN AVIATION CRASH

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The chances of being involved in an aircraft accident are extremely small and your chances of surviving a technically survivable accident (an accident in which at least one person can survive) are high. Life threatening accidents (including those in which no one survives) are very rare, one such event occurring every 5.7 million departures. An individual’s chances of surviving such an event are good, being almost 56%. If we exclude accidents in which everyone dies and consider only the technically survivable incidents, then the average survival rate goes up to 71.1%. For comparison purposes, over the period 1983-2000 in the USA there were an average of 8,358,008 departures per year. You are at greater risk from being involved in a fatal car accident on your way to the airport than being in a fatal aircraft accident! So we should not take a fatalistic view of aviation accidents.

If you are involved in an aircraft accident it is essential that you evacuate as quickly as possible. This is especially true in accidents involving fire as every second counts.

Follow these simple safety tips to increase your chances of surviving a plane crash:

BEFORE YOU BOARD:

  • When booking your flight, select a seat that is as close to an exit as possible. While there is no safest place to sit on an aircraft, whenever I travel, I try and sit within five seat rows of an exit and I try to take an aisle seat. Analysis  undertaken using the AASK database (see FSEG publications for details) suggest that air crash survivors travel an average of five seat rows to a viable exit.
  • When travelling in family groups it is preferable that the family are seated together in the same seat row. And you should agree a plan on how your group will evacuate. For example, if two adults are travelling with two children, each adult could assume responsibility for one child and each group should be prepared to evacuate independently if necessary. Agree to meet up outside the aircraft after the evacuation. Searching for group members during an evacuation risks delaying your evacuation and the evacuation of others around you.
  • Wear sensible flat heal shoes while flying.

AFTER YOU BOARD:

  • As soon as you take your seat, check where your nearest two exits are, in front and behind you. Before take-off count the seat rows to your nearest two exits. Before you land, refresh your memory and count again.
  • Each time you fly, pay attention to the safety briefing and encourage others to do so.
    Read the safety briefing card before take-off and landing and make sure that you know how to adopt the correct BRACE position for your seat. Adopting the BRACE position will give you the best chance of being able to evacuate, as it reduces your chances of being knocked unconscious and/or suffering other debilitating injuries that would make evacuation difficult.
  • Keep your shoes on during take-off and landing. If there is debris in the cabin or if the cabin is significantly damaged, wearing your shoes may make it a little easier for you to evacuate.

DURING AN EVACUATION:

  • Whenever possible, follow the instructions of the cabin crew. The most important safety feature aboard the aircraft, they are highly trained safety professionals, whose primary purpose for being on-board is to assist you in the event of an emergency.
  • Remember that your seat belt is different to the one in your car. You must pull the lever, not press a button. In high pressure situations it is easy to forget this simple fact.
  • Leave your carry-on; don't waste precious time trying to collect your belongings.
  • If you need to wear a life jacket, remember not to inflate it until you exit the aircraft. Inflating the life jacket while you are in the aircraft increases your bulk making it easier for you to get jammed in tight or congested spaces. Also, if you are wearing an inflated life jacket, as the aircraft is filling with water you will float, making it difficult for you to pass through a submerged exit.

Above all else PREPARE and be AWARE! PREPARE - plan how you would evacuate - and be AWARE of your environment and your location relative to the exits at all times. Remember that over 90% of aircraft accidents are survivable.
 


IMPROVING YOUR CHANCES OF SURVIVING A HOTEL FIRE

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Major life threatening fires in hotels are rare. However, should you encounter one, your chances of survival will be improved if you apply these common sense guidelines.

BEFORE YOU TRAVEL:

  1. When selecting a hotel find out whether they have smoke detectors in the rooms and if they also have sprinklers installed.
  2. When selecting a room consider one on the side of the building that has good road access. Should it prove necessary for the fire brigade to attempt an external (ladder based) rescue they will be able to position their appliance next to the building.
  3. Consider packing an emergency kit with your luggage. The following are suggestions for items that may prove useful:
  1. A powerful torch/flashlight: You may need to evacuate in the dark or through smoky conditions.
  2. Wide duct/masking tape: If smoke begins to enter your room attempt to seal the top, sides and bottom of the door with your tape. If you do not have tape, try putting wet towels around the door.
  3. A portable smoke detector: Some hotels you may be forced to stay in may not have smoke detectors installed.
  4. A personal smoke hood. Typically, these are filter based devices that are intended to provide fresh air and some protection to the head of the user from elevated heat and thermal radiation. Some models pack down to a size no bigger than a soft drink can. If you purchase such a device ensure that it is capable of filtering out carbon monoxide, and that it has undergone thorough testing by a reputable third party. Only use as instructed by the manufacturer.

AT THE HOTEL:

  1. Once you have checked in, study the evacuation information provided by the hotel. Evacuation instructions are often placed on the back of room doors or in hotel welcome documentation.
  2. Familiarise yourself with the evacuation route; if possible walk it and count how many doors you are away from staircase/exit. This is important because in smoky conditions you may not be able to see. If the hotel has manual fire alarm system, make sure you know where the nearest alarm point is.
  3. If you find emergency stairs that are locked or being used as a storage facility, report it immediately to the hotel reception.
  4. Place emergency equipment and room keys on the bedside table.
  5. Check how/whether the windows open.
  6. Determine if there is a safe way to exit the room through the window. Your window may only be a couple of meters from the ground or some other place of relative safety. If you decide to use the window as a means of escape, do not jump from the window but try to lower yourself down. WARNING: Dropping more than one floor is likely to cause injury.
  7. Find out how to operate the air conditioner because during a fire, in some cases, the air conditioner could pump smoke and toxic gases into your room.

USEFUL INFORMATION:

  1. The majority of fire fatalities are not caused by burns but by the inhalation of hot toxic fire gases such as carbon monoxide. These gases generally rise, so if you are caught in a fire and are forced to pass through smoke, it is generally better to drop to the floor and crawl.
  2. In U.K. metropolitan areas, the fire brigade is expected to respond within 5 to 8 minutes of receiving a call.
  3. Most fire brigade equipment cannot extend above about 6 floors.
  4. Do not use the lift/elevator in buildings where there is a fire because it could take you to the fire floor, the door could open on a smoke filled floor and not close, or you could get trapped in the lift/elevator.
  5. If you decide to evacuate your room, make sure you take your room keys with you because you could be forced to return and seek refuge in your room.
  6. In a fire situation, before opening a door feel the door, check if it is hot to the touch, try touching the door knob/handle. If either are warm do not open the door. Only open the door if it does not feel warm. However, be prepared to shut the door quickly if the corridor is filled with smoke.
  7. Try opening the window to let in fresh air however;
    1. First check if there is smoke outside your window. The fire could be on a floor below you resulting in hot toxic smoke rising past your window.
    2. If the window does not open break it only as a last resort, for example if your room is filling with smoke as you may need to close the window if the conditions outside worsen.
    3. Once you have opened the window hang a sheet out of the window to let the emergency services know where you are.
  1. Finally, don’t panic!

DISCLAIMER

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The University of Greenwich makes no guarantee as to, and assumes no responsibility for, the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations described on these pages. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.


 

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