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Recent statistics show that about 85 percent of all U.S. fire deaths occurred in homes. Do you know what to do if a fire were to break out where you live?
The answer for far too many people is "no," so America Now Host Bill Rancic joined members of the Santa Monica Fire Department to reveal the deadly mistakes people often make.
"I have a great respect for firefighters," says Bill. "My cousins are firemen in Chicago, and I know all too well the harrowing dangers they face in deadly house fires. So when I got the chance to take part in some drill exercises with the Santa Monica Fire Department, I jumped at the chance!"
It was an action-packed day that began with Bill gearing up in the same turnouts all firefighters wear. Training Chief Jose Torres says that the lightweight suit, made of Nomex and Kevlar, is what protects a firefighter from extreme heat.
The face mask protects a firefighter's respiratory tract from being scorched by the hot air and toxic smoke, which can kill you in seconds. That's why Chief Torres says never go back into a house to get personal belongings.
"They can become hypoxic because they're inhaling smoke," says Torres. "Hypoxic means that you don't have enough oxygen in your system to really think clearly."
Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death in a house fire. Chief Torres says many people are killed because they don't stay low to the floor.
"Get low. That's where it's cooler," says Torres.
He says another mistake people make is not checking a door for heat before opening it.
"If you feel that the doorknob is hot, you know there's heat behind that door," he adds.
Opening a door with flames on the other side can fuel that fire with oxygen, and cause it to quickly spread. But for Chief Torres, the most heart-breaking mistake involves frightened children, who hide in closets and under beds, making it difficult for rescuers to find them.
Little kids often hide because they think the firemen are monsters. Remember, if your house catches fire:
Stay low to the floor where the air is cooler
Never open a door before checking to see if it's hot
Teach children not to hide
Once you've escaped, never go back inside
"Spending a day with firefighters really makes you appreciate the men and women who protect us," says Bill. "One more thing I took away from the experience is that the confusion created during a fire is extreme. Planning ahead can make all the difference."