JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Tara Heflin lives in the building across from the one that erupted in flames at the Sunchase Apartments in Ridgeland back in July. With no time to think, she sprang into action.
"I was in bed and I heard all this popping, and I looked out the window to see what was going on," she tells us. "I threw on the shoes by the door and came running, and started banging on doors. The apartment was fully engulfed at that point."
The fire originated in a second floor apartment. With the help of Heflin and other neighbors, everyone got out safely.
But what if fire breaks out at YOUR home?
You and your family will have less than three minutes to get out. One step can save crucial minutes in the heat of the moment: having a plan mapped out, to get out.
"If it does happen, you'll be in danger so you should have a plan," says 14-year-old Taylor Martin of Clinton.
Martin knows the importance of a fire escape plan, because his grandmother, Lisa Garforth, is a fire safety expert with the City of Madison. We asked Taylor, and his 12-year-old brother Thomas, to lend their knowledge to us, and they ran through a scenario to escape quickly and efficiently from Garforth's home.
First, when the smoke alarms sound, 911 if a phone is handy. Then, feel the bedroom door with the back of your hand. If the door doesn't feel hot, its safe to enter the hallway and head toward an exit. But, if the bedroom door is hot, that means smoke or fire is on the other side. Block smoke from entering the bedroom with blankets or pillows. Then, exit out a window. Garforth's window has a roof ledge just outside, convenient for family members to climb out to.
But then what should they do?
"We could put a ladder in here, but a ladder would be hard to use. The place to hook would be on the gutters, which would not be safe. There are some other things you can get that would be longer, or possibly just sit on the roof and wait for the firefighters to get here," Garforth says.
Jumping to the ground could be an option if it's a short jump.
Once down, head to a pre-planned meeting place. This family chose a fence on the property that would keep them out of harm's way.
If some family members are still inside, Garforth says you should and wait to inform firefighters.
"Once you're out, don't go back in for anything. No one should go back in," Garforth tells us.
Not for dogs or cats either. Pets can often find their own way out.
Also, invest in portable fire ladders and put them in every room on the second floor where there's a straight drop down to the ground. They're good for second- or third-floor apartments too. But read the instructions before you practice with the ladder; it may specify not to unfold it until it's ready for use.
Taylor has practiced the fire plan before.
"Going out the windows and stuff like that," he says.
Your family fire escape plan should also be on paper. Our demonstration reminded Garforth that she didn't have a sketch of her plan, and she took the opportunity to make one.
Heflin has one more piece of advice.
"Be prepared. Have documents ready, things you can't replace ready to grab and go," she adds.
Whether you live in an apartment or a single-story home, there are some things you can keep inside your home that may help you in the event of a fire.
Consider investing in one or more fire escape kits. The kits can be purchased online and may include face masks, smoke hoods, heat resistant gloves, heat reflective blankets, glow sticks for light, and fire escape ladders.
Additionally, consider buying one or more home fire extinguishers. Place them along your fire escape route and in rooms prone to fires, such as the kitchen, garage or workshop.
The Mississippi State Fire Marshal's Office offers a wealth of information on preventing fires and keeping safe through its Fire Safety Education Guide.