Local expert offers fire safety tips for mobile homes

Smoke detectors key, says Jacksonville fire union president

By Heather Leigh - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mobile homes can be vulnerable to high winds and storms, but they're also hazardous when it comes to fires.

Experts say they tend to burn faster and only have one or two exits, making it harder to find a way out.

Jacksonville Association of Firefighters President Randy Wyse said a lot of older mobile homes have paneling, and that tends to burn a lot quicker than sheet rock, for example.

Wyse said the most important thing homeowners can do is have a working smoke detector, preferably one that operates on batteries in case the power goes out. He said smoke detectors are the first line of defense.

"At any stage of the fire, you're going to have smoke," Wyse said. "If you can be alerted to that when the fire is small, you can get out."

A fire extinguisher in each room is also important, but Wyse said before anyone tries to battle a fire on their own, they should get out of the home and call 911.

You don't want to attempt to put the fire out," Wyse said. "Realize you can't do it, and then call 911. You want to call 911 immediately. Let the firefighters be coming, and then if you think you can (do it) safely, attempt to put the fire out."

Firefighters said some older mobile homes have smaller windows, and they're much higher up, which means it's more difficult to escape from them. But some of the newer ones have bigger windows that are much closer to the ground.

The smaller number of exits also makes mobile home residents more susceptible to smoke inhalation.

"If you're cut off and you can't get out, it's the smoke that gets you first," Wyse said. "It makes you confused. You can't breathe. You try to take a deep breath, (but) you take in heated gases or smoke, and it makes you cough. Unless you've been in a situation like that, it's hard to fathom how someone can't get out."

Wyse said often firefighters find children hiding underneath beds or blankets because they're scared. He said knowing these things comes with experience.

"(Mobile homes are a) lot smaller. You have a lot more firefighters inside there with their gear, makes it difficult to get around in there," Wyse said. "Sometimes the hallways are only a couple of feet wide, so you can only go in one at a time. I wouldn't say it's more training, but it's more experience. If you've been to those mobile homes, you know how they'll react, how they burn quicker."

Homeowners who can't afford a smoke detector can get one for free by calling 630-CITY.

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