COLLEGE STATION Fire can kill quickly, and when it does, it can be horrifying and heartbreaking.
"I mean thank God, they are in heaven now, but they will be missed so much, such loving children."
Each year more than 2,500 people die in house fires, and more than 12,000 are injured.
If these Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics don't jar you, a time sequence might.
In just 2 minutes a fire can become life-threatening, with thick black smoke and poisonous gases starting to build up. It's time to get out quickly.
At 3 and a half minutes a room can reach more than a thousand degrees and flames begin flashing over from the ceiling.
And fire can engulf a home in 5 minutes, by then, more than likely too late to get out.
Bryan Fire Department Lieutenant Jon Strickland says most of the time it's not the fire that kills you.
"It's generally the smoke. Smoke overcomes people and you can't get out in time. Before you get that, get to that good air to breathe."
We're setting up at the world famous Brayton Fire Training Field at Texas A&M University.
Lieutenant Strickland and the Bryan Fire Department have a life-saving drill on how to Get Out Alive.
Battalion Chief Joe Ondrasek is suiting me up with firefighter gear, including an oxygen mask, as they prepare to light fires inside this training structure.
"When you get ready to go in, this is the red button. Turn it if you start getting smoke in your mask. You just reach up and turn that. It'll come on out. That'll push the smoke out."
As firefighters lead me into what will soon be an inferno, I can't help but feel somewhat apprehensive about the next 10 minutes.
The fires are lit, and it doesn't take long for thick smoke to begin filling up the structure.
Strickland gives some potentially life-saving lessons.
"If you were asleep in this room, you would have to rely on a smoke detector or a smoke alarm to alert you to what's going on. So at this point, and you're laying in your bed and you wake up and this is what you see, you're going to want to get out. And so you stand up to walk out and you notice it's too hot up here. Not only is it hotter, but there is where all the bad stuff is to breathe. So we got to get down low."
Crawling on our hands and knees it's much easier to see and much cooler, maybe 100 degrees compared to 150 degrees and rising while standing up. Before long it'll easily push over 500 degrees at that higher level.
The fire is now flashing over on the ceiling. This is a critical period to get out as we crawl along, using the backs of our hands to feel if there's fire behind a door.
Keep in mind, we're heavily protected and breathing oxygen.
Then we get a call from Battalion Chief Ondrasek outside that I'm breathing too fast and using up my O2 supply.
"OK. Yeah I'm breathing a lot because it's hotter than heck. Oh man! OK?"
Lt. Strickland brings me back to the task at hand, getting out alive. Remember, I've got firefighters nearby to help me if I can't make it out on my own. More than likely you or your family wouldn't have that safety net.
Lieutenant Strickland continues, "You have to remember this whole time that doors are not the only exit. You can go out windows. You have to remember to have at least 2 exits out of every room. So the first thing you come to, whether it be a door or window, you have to take that exit, and make sure it's a place you can get out."
As the flames get more intense, Lieutenant Strickland helps me check a door for heat, then opt for bailing out of a nearby window.
"I'm alive! Whew."
As firefighters help me take equipment off, I think about how this drill makes me appreciate what they do for a living.
It also drives home the simple rules that can help you Get Out Alive, the most important, crawling below the dangerous smoke and gases and quickly moving to a safe exit.
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