The Hero and the Hollywood Fire

Have you ever watched a movie or television show where one of the movie’s characters gets trapped in a building and eventually is over come by smoke and passes out? Have you then watched on in suspense as the hero of the movie kicks in a door and rushes through the burning building to locate and subsequently rescue the trapped person?

I’m sure you’re reading this thinking, doesn’t that nearly always happen in the movies? Well, yeah it does seem to be a regular thing.

When speaking to groups regarding fire safety and workplace emergency evacuations I often encounter the attendee who uses the Hollywood scenario upon which to base their capabilities and resulting actions they would or could perform in an emergency. Equating real-life to the movies will get you killed. Here’s just five reasons why; (believe me there’s more).

Doors seldom, if ever, kick in like a Hollywood door. I'm surprised Hollywood persists with this misnomer. Anyone who has watched a few episodes of the fly-on-the-wall documentary 'Cops' or has a Police or Fire officer as a friend will tell you that doors are defeated by a sledgehammer or battering ram rather than one swift kick.

Secondly, if smoke (Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide are the main culprits) is sufficiently dense enough to have an occupant pass out from inhalation then you will too. Without breathing apparatus you will not be able to perform strenuous exercise – like rescuing someone. And no; a wet handkerchief is not breathing apparatus.

Another Hollywood myth regarding structure fires is the density of smoke. Most contents of a home or office are synthetic and therefore will burn emitting thick, black, acrid smoke that will reduce the visibility in an office or room to inches very quickly. Not ideal circumstances in which to film a movie.

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Something television cannot convey yet any fire-fighter will tell you; the heat within a structure involved in fire is extreme. We’re talking hot enough to cook a pizza. Ever wondered why fire-fighters always wear huge thick over-pants and coats even in hot weather, even when confronting fire? It’s to protect them from the radiant heat from fire and also as a barrier from the heat transferred by convection assisted by the smoke. Another reason for fire-fighters to wear breathing apparatus. Breathing in air that’s hot enough to cook food doesn’t do your lungs much good, not to mention the toxins and contaminants within the smoke itself.

Those workplace heroes that believe they could pick up an unconscious work colleague and carry them over their shoulder a la ‘The Fireman’s Carry’ are truly misguided. Almost all of us, no matter how strong and fit will have little chance of getting an unconscious person off the floor and over our shoulder. Ever tried to pick up a child who has fallen asleep in front of the TV and carry them to their bedroom? If you’re not a parent then ask someone who has tried this. It's not that easy, and that's with a child.

Sorry to dispel the excitement of a Hollywood fire. For all of us though, we should enjoy the entertainment of the movies or television for just that; entertainment.

Basing your emergency procedures upon film and TV is asking for trouble.