In the UK from 2010 to 2011 there were 45,000 dwelling fires. Those fires directly resulted in 8,900 non-fatal casualties and 306 deaths. The majority of those fires – 38,000 – were accidental, mainly from the misuse of kitchen or electrical appliances. The rest, well, what’s the opposite of ‘accidental’? (Communities.gov)
A house fire, particularly in the middle of the night, is the very definition of a Worst Case Scenario. You’re woken by a your terrified child or the wailing of a smoke alarm. It’s dark. You’ve gone from a sleep state into fight or flight mode in a matter of seconds. You’re disorientated and know that you have to get your family and yourself out of danger as soon as possible.
You’ve always been told to just get out, not worry about your things. Right from school age we are told: “Leave your bags. Leave in an orderly manner by the predetermined route. Do not return to the building for any reason.” The theory is exactly the same in domestic fire situations (although I doubt people line up their families on the playground and make them shout out their names) but there is so much more at stake. Schools can take a hit and the kids can still be taught. If your house goes up in flames with everything inside and you don’t have a plan, life could get seriously difficult very quickly.
This is the un-sung benefit of the personal/family Bug Out Bag. It’s there, it’s ready and it has everything you need to keep yourself and your family as safe, warm and happy as is possible in an emergency. People have the impression that a BOB is just there for when aliens attack (unlikely) or when the economy crashes (very likely) and they have to abandon their homes and live in the woods like Bear Grylls until it all blows over. But we shouldn’t get complacent and think that the only things we must prepare for are at the apocalyptic end of the scale. A fire can start in your home while you are preparing breakfast or dinner, while you’re sat writing at your desk or while you’re asleep. Regardless, the situation needs to be dealt with. You can prepare your home for the end of the world, but what if it went up in flames?
I should be clear. This post deals with a Bug Out Bag that will serve you should you find yourself with a housefire to deal with. A large scale Bugging Out kit will be must more comprehensive and contain equipment to keep you safe, warm and fed for at least 72 hours. These kit contents will only make sure that you are not sat on the street in your nightshirt wondering what to do next. Your house burning up is a traumatic time and collecting these few things together will take a considerable amount of stress off of your shoulders, leaving you free to care for those around you.
I.D. and Important Documents. Your house is your biggest asset and apart from your car I’m willing to bet it contains the majority of your most expensive possessions. It also serves as a huge treasure chest for your treasured memories, identification and important documents. In the event of a fire you need to prove that the house is yours, you are who you say you are and that the stuff inside was what you say it was. All of the necessary documents; Identification, Insurance, Deeds, Birth Certificates, health records, bank account details…. everything can be Scanned and kept on a single modern USB stick. They take up no space at all, and will save you months of messing with Insurance companies and Banks while you try to re-start your life. (Note, most USB sticks have security/password options so set one in case a burglar takes your kit! Also, your family passports? Are they to hand or do you want to keep them in your bag as well?) Consider keeping with your USB and Passports an amount of cash that can keep you out of trouble in the short term. £100 will get you travel, food and even a bed & breakfast room in a tight spot and with your I.D. saved on your USB you’ll be able to approach a bank for more in the morning. Want to be extra safe? Take out a credit card just to keep with your BOB, in the event of a fire you might not be able to get your own wallet/purse.
Food and Water. Unless your house burning down is only part of a more widespread disaster such as an Earthquake or Tsunami, in which case your problems are a lot bigger, you will be able to access food and water pretty quickly. However it will calm your nerves and the nerves of your children if there is something on hand to eat and drink straight away or while the emergency services do their thing. A couple of litres of water and energy/chocolate bars should do the trick.
Warm Clothing. You don’t want to be scrabbling around for useful clothes when your house is coming down around you and children will be too panicked to think effectively. That makes it your responsibility to prepare something beforehand so that you can all get out first, and worry about what you’re wearing second. For a house fire situation just a pair of trousers, warm fleece, hat/gloves and a pair of shoes will be fine. You’ll be able to reach somewhere warm and sheltered before suffering too much. Staying warm includes staying dry. Add an emergency poncho and foil blanket for every family member. They weigh next to nothing and are available in every outdoor shop and all over the web, even Amazon. Don’t rely on others bringing them for you, that’s not what Prepping is about.
First Aid Kit. The Emergency Services will be there soon bringing all the First Aid you could need, but a small, comprehensive, FAK is essential for every survival kit. There should be one in your kitchen, there should be one in your car and there should be one in your office desk. Some people like to have a more extensive array of medical supplies but don’t carry anything you are not comfortable with using or that is unnecessary. Seriously, do you need that sphygmomanometer? Can you use a stethoscope?
Communication. These days, nobody even goes to the bathroom without their Smart Phone in hand but an immediate emergency can throw everything into disarray. We commit far too much to our handsets and rely on them far too much. If you were stuck without yours, would you be able to phone work from memory to let them know what’s happened? Could you contact a close friend or relative without simply tapping ‘John’ or ‘Aunty May’ on your touch-screen? I couldn’t, and I’ve attempted to learn those numbers by heart. Keeping just a small notebook/diary in your pack with emergency numbers in it will save you a lot of stress, just when everything is already pretty stressful.
A Plan. Lastly, having the kit is not enough. It’ll keep you warm and supply you with what you need to get out of immediate trouble, but it will soon become worthless if not used in conjunction with a properly thought out plan of action to accompany it. There are two stages to the plan; Getting out of the house and Getting away from the house. Every family member needs to know in advance what to do if they wake up to a fire in the house including escape routes, escape methods and a place to meet. It can be as easy as: “Go downstairs, leave by the French windows and we’ll meet on the neighbours lawn.” My Dad let me push my mattress out of my bedroom window to practice in case I needed to jump. It was a game, and there is no way I would have forgotten in a crisis. Getting away from the house involves having a place to go with your family straight away (assuming that nobody needs medical attention). Either a bed & breakfast nearby or a relative within reasonable distance. The numbers will be in your notebook and the hotels could be marked on a local map, kept in your Bug Out Bag and light as a feather.
There. That should do it. A lot of writing in this post thanks for sticking with it. Remember that these items, although they should all be in a proper Bug Out Bag, will only really keep your spirits up in the event of a house fire. A similar bag could go under your office desk in case of an office fire – but offices, like schools, are usually much better protected from fire and you would have your phone and wallet on you. Have both, or just have the proper BOB. If you have neither, the fire kit is a good place to start with in any case. As ever, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
Thanks for reading. You’re pretty Ace.