Approximately eight out of 10 fire deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, not from burns.
In fact, some victims never even see flames before they are overcome by the smoke.
Although you can't see them, it is the toxic gases and superheated air in smoke that makes it so dangerous.
Plastics, in particular, give off a very poisonous gas when burned.
Since most homes and offices have a significant number of furnishings and machines, such as furniture and computers with high plastic content, fires in these places often generate a tremendous amount of noxious smoke.
Smoke also contains another poisonous gas called carbon monoxide.
This tasteless, odorless gas causes confusion, reduced mental capacity and eventually death.
If impaired by carbon monoxide poisoning, victims will likely be challenged to find an escape route or make a sound decision about their safety.
Knowing how to avoid smoke is one of the most important factors in surviving a fire.
Smoke is lighter than air so it rises above air.
During a fire, the superheated air and smoke fill the room from the top down.
Some poisonous smoke may settle near the floor, but in between is a safety zone of breathable air about one to two feet above the floor.
To prevent smoke inhalation, crawl on your hands and knees to your exit, keep- ing your head in the safety zone.
Firefighters use this same method when navigating a building where smoke is present.
Getting an early warning to the presence of smoke can give you the few vital minutes you need to get out safely.
Smoke alarms are designed to do just that. They give you the precious time you need to implement your escape plan and crawl under the smoke to safety.
Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins, submitted the Smoke Signals column.