If you watched the latest episode of This Is Us, you’re A) probably still crying, and B) worried about home safety. While we can’t bring a beloved character back from the dead, we can add a few things to our to-do lists to hopefully prevent a similar fate. [Spoilers ahead.]
We finally found out how Jack died (and maybe we can all forgive Crock-Pot—eventually). Shockingly, Jack emerges from the burning house with the dog and photo albums in tow, seeming quite alive and mostly fine, save for some second degree burns. But while at the hospital, he suffers cardiac arrest caused by smoke inhalation, and Rebecca was in as much disbelief as we were.
According to Dr. Medell Briggs-Malonson, founder of IPA Healthcare Solutions and Director of Quality at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, more than 23,000 people suffer from smoke inhalation each year—with approximately 20% of them dying from related heart or respiratory complications.
“Smoke from house fires contain a large amount of toxic poisons from the burning objects, including carbon monoxide and cyanide,” says Dr. Briggs-Malonson via email. “When a person inhales the smoke, they are also inhaling each of these dangerous toxins, which enters their lungs and blood. When these dangerous toxins are breathed in, they prevent the blood from being able to care oxygen to the heart, brain, and other important organs.”
While the health risks are very real, the fictional Pearsons made several mistakes you can easily avoid.
1. Check your smoke alarms
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have annoying, low battery beeps for a reason. The US Fire Administration says you should test your alarms every month, and replace batteries twice a year (add reminders to your calendar so you don’t forget!).
2. Unplug your electronics
While old, temperamental appliances are one thing (we’re looking at you, hand-me-down Crock-Pot), even they can’t be dangerous if they’re not plugged in. Get into the habit of unplugging appliances and other possible fire hazards when not in use—it could also help cut down on your energy bill.
3. If you’re in a fire, get low (and get out ASAP)
Smoke and its toxins rise, so if you find yourself in a fire emergency, stay as close to the ground as possible.
To minimize smoke-related complications, Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, a Yale and Harvard-trained ER doctor and the SVP of clinical strategy at Sharecare, says, “pay attention to the ‘early’ signs—which in a fire situation, may happen very quickly before a more severe situation. If you experience shortness of breath, headache, are starting to feel confused or dizzy, then you’re likely exposed to carbon monoxide and need to get out of the situation ASAP.” Do not—we repeat, do not go back for the photo albums.
4. Have an escape plan
The episode would’ve been a lot less dramatic if the kids had instinctually unrolled their rope ladders and climbed down to safety without Jack having to run up and down the flaming, smoke-filled hall. Ready.gov suggests having a fire escape plan and practicing it twice a year.