MILWAUKEE -- When the fire alarm sounds, split-second decisions can save lives.
Fires spread faster in today's homes due to all of the synthetic materials and open floor plans. However, there is an easy step you can take every night to get ahead of a fire -- closing the bedroom door.
"It is a considerable difference. It buys you time," explained Steve Woynerowski of Underwriters Laboratories.
Underwriters Laboratories in Illinois built a home to light it on fire. The researchers left one bedroom open and another bedroom door shut. Their reason was to study how a closed door protects a room.
"The amount of smoke that's going to be inside that room -- it also will give you a difference of the temperatures between the two rooms," Woynerowski said as he explained what the study would demonstrate.
Researchers lit a fire in the living space and within minutes, thick smoke filled the home -- making it impossible to see.
Inside the bedroom with the open door, it took just four minutes and ten seconds for the lethal levels of carbon dioxide, toxic gasses and heat to fill the room.
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Inside the room with the closed door, smoke entered much more slowly. Ten minutes later, firefighters extinguished the fire in the living room. Someone inside the bedroom with a closed door could have survived and been rescued.
"If you are stuck in there, it gives you an opportunity to either get to a window, or to execute an escape plan," Woynerowski said.
Between the two rooms, the difference in temperature was dramatic. The temperature inside the room with the open door reached more than 100 degrees hotter than inside the room with the closed door.
"If it's hot, you don't want to open it. If it's cool to the touch, take a peak, see what you have," demonstrated David Glanz of North Shore Fire Rescue.
Contact 6 turned to North Shore Fire and Rescue to get a demonstration on when it is safe to try and escape a burning home. Glanz said if you have a light amount of smoke, he would recommend staying low to the ground and trying to get to the closest exit. However, if you encounter thick smoke, Glanz advises people to go back into the room and shove a pillow or blanket under the door.
To help homeowners identify potential fire hazards, North Shore Fire Rescue offers free in-home fire safety evaluations.
Glanz will lay out a fire escape plan and install free fire alarms.
"Once a month, test your alarm. Most people don't do that," Glanz advised.
Then, just remember to close before you doze.