A very hot topic

According to historians and Yuval Noah Harari in particular (the author of the book “Homo Sapiens”), people started using fire approximately 300,000 years ago. When I read about that, I started thinking: “So many years! How it is possible, that people still die in fires and have not learned how to handle fire safely?”.

But until recently I also belonged to a group of “cave dwellers” regarding the proper knowledge of fire safety. At Karolinska Institutet, all employees have to attend a mandatory course, which is conducted by a company called Presto which is a fire safety provider. Now I can share with you some of my newly obtained knowledge.

Let me start with a short description of a 3-hour session, which included theoretical and practical parts (spoiler: we practiced to use a fire extinguisher!).

There are two language options for the course participants – English and Swedish. I attended a Swedish-speaking course, but the information, that was provided, and the instructor are the same. Therefore, even if you do not speak Swedish, you still have all chances to learn how to save your life in case of fire. The course should be repeated every four years – KI ensures that all employees go through the training. Our instructor was a real professional: he has been working in a fire brigade for more than 38 years, so one can attend the course just to listen to his incredible stories and his past experience. Despite the fact, that the described situations were mostly sad, you will remember the information better and will not repeat the mistakes of others.

The instructor started with the introduction of Swedish legislation regarding the fire safety. The regulations are strict, especially related to construction of inhabitable buildings and public places. Personally, I did not know, that it is safe stay in a so-called “fire cell” (an apartment or a room in a dormitory) up to 60 minutes. Therefore, if the fume filled a space in a corridor, you should wait for the fire brigade in your apartment . Furthermore, since the research laboratories are the areas of increased risk, the attention towards safety is even higher. I would recommend to those, who work in the labs, to not only attend the fire safety and basic lab safety courses but also to recall the structure of “fire departments” and scheme of fire exits in your lab, and inflammable chemicals that you work with (yes, again!). On KI Staff Portal (Medarbetarportalen) there is a full page related to fire safety, where you can find regulatory documents, links and contacts, and apply for the training. In addition, it is good to know, where you can find a fire extinguisher and/or a fire blanket at home, and whether the emergency exit is easily accessible. Do not be afraid to look too precautious – it is better to be safe than sorry.

After the legislative and regulatory part, we moved towards the “physics of fire”. Our instructor showed us and commented on several educational videos regarding:

  • What causes fire;
  • How fire is spreading in the building;
  • How much time it takes for the fume to fill the corridors and rooms.

In addition, we watched the video from the fire in the club on Rhode Island in February 2003. I would highly recommend to watch it and to show it to teenagers because you never know what can happen during a concert or dancing night at a club.

So, just a short overview of recommendations on behaviour​ in public places:

  • Check (visually) the emergency exits every time you come to the club in order to know where to run;
  • The emergency exit preferably should be different from the one you have entered, because in case of panic everybody will rush to the main entrance (hello, brain!);
  • Try to be sure that the emergency exit is not blocked.

cofEverybody could try to fight the fire

Finally, we came to the last and the most fun part of the course: practice with the extinguishers! The instructor showed how to check the pressure and explained why it is important to inspect the extinguisher at least once a year. Everyone in the group tried to put out the fire using water, foam, or carbon dioxide extinguisher. Definitely, the course was worth three hours of my life and made me somehow a volunteer – ambassador of fire safety. I immediately called my parents and asked about extinguishers at home and now I’m writing a blog about the “hot” topic.

cofIf you did not know, there are different types of extinguishers to be used in different situations

You might think that I became paranoid about safety… Not really =)

Still, bad things might happen completely unexpectedly. It is summer when the hot and dry weather (not in Sweden during Midsummer though ) might be another risk factor for the fires. Also, if you have a barbecue – be aware of the risk and the fire blanket location.

Last, but not least: in some countries, there might be fewer precautions towards fire safety – keep that in mind. Remember about your safety during your travelling and flights. When I am flying, I always visually check the distance to the closest emergency exit on the plane (count the number of rows), in order to know whether I should move towards the front or rear part of the plane in case of fire.

Therefore, stay calm and safe, and I wish everyone an enjoyable summer!

P.S. If you have any comments on the fire safety in KI, feel free to share them =)

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