Floor plans could determine how your home fares in a fire

Home design affects the way a fire burns
Posted at 11:18 AM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 19:24:12-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thanks to the earliest snowfall in Kansas City history, you probably turned on your heater this week. So, what better time to think about a fire plan for your family?

As it turns out, that plan could be different from one neighborhood to the next.

Overland Park Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Messinger said his crew gathers information about your home and neighborhood before they even get to you.

“It actually starts when the call comes in,” Overland Park Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Messinger said. “We kind of have a pre-planned idea of what is the neighborhood. Are they smaller, or larger?”

41 Action News toured one home in south Overland Park to see examples of things firefighters consider.

“It's in a cul-de-sac, so the front of the houses are kind of close together, and then they kind of pie-shape out into the backyard,” Messinger pointed out.

Once inside, fire crews are factoring in the design of your house, for one very important reason.

“Fire follows the path of least resistance, always,” Messinger said.

Underwriters Laboratories has studied “legacy” construction versus the contemporary open floor plans — recreating rooms, filling them with furniture from corresponding years, and setting them on fire.

The organization's studies show that modern designs burn much faster, doubling in size in just seconds.

“Home construction 50 years ago, it was all compartmentalized,” Messinger said. “Nobody wants to buy those anymore. It's all wide open.”

But Messinger isn't trying to scare anyone away from certain floor plans, but just educating them about how homes will react in the event of a fire.

Modern homes often don’t have doors to stairways down to the basement level. In the case of a basement fire, the flames will travel to the main level faster, because there’s no barricade.

Messigner said barricades can be effective in other areas of the home, such as bedrooms, no matter where they're located.

“Keep your doors closed,” Messinger said. “There's been a lot of research, and a lot of film, that's been put together on fires that happen inside, door closed versus door open, and it's amazing the difference between the two.”

Other tips include purchasing and installing heat detectors, which register sudden rapid rises in temperature, and syncing smoke detectors so that if one goes off, every one in the house goes off.

Because even Messinger, a 30-year veteran fireman, will tell you...

“Smoke detectors will save far more lives than any firefighter ever could.”

Messinger also stressed the importance of keeping non-combustible items in basement storage rooms, and having windows that are easy to open in the basement, and upstairs bedrooms.

For more tips on how to protect your home, no matter the design, you can click here to visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website.