How long is two minutes? | Moments Notice

By Maria Montalvo | May 12, 2016

It will likely take you about two minutes to read this column. One of the most romantic scenes in my favorite movie is two minutes long, when Harrison Ford packs a lunchbox for Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl.” It also takes two minutes to make the perfect piece of toast.

In two minutes, irreparable harm can be done to your brain if deprived of oxygen, and your chances of surviving a heart attack go down nearly 20 percent. In two minutes, a fire in your home will double in size, and rooms will fill with thick, black smoke.

Until last week when I was fortunate to participate in a program called Fire Ops, and I read in The Beacon about a consultant proposal to change Fire District 1’s emergency response times from six to eight minutes, I had no concept of what time meant when responding to a fire.

In FireOps, we participated in eye-opening, realistic simulations with 45-pound gear that is difficult to get into, real fire, smoke, very tall ladders, failure of everything to work as expected (car doors, windows, elevators, alarms).

They made us extinguish a car engulfed in flames, cut a victim out of the driver’s seat, enter a house to douse a blaze on the first floor before going upstairs to put out a bed fire and get smoke out of the room, resuscitate someone having a heart attack, and attempt a search and rescue across two stories of a house.

In the 1970s, the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported people had 17 minutes to escape a house fire, but because of modern construction and furnishings that burn much faster, the same study in 2004 found that time is now only to two to three minutes to get out.

If you call 911, the average time for response is around six minutes.

It takes 34 seconds to walk from my bedroom to the front door under normal circumstances. After crawling under smoke in a fire-filled building, I can tell you it takes a lot longer to go up or down stairs on your hands and knees and straining to breath.

Throughout the exercises, I thought that would be the hardest part – moving around in the gear on my knees, pulling a heavy hose. But it wasn’t.

The hardest part was the darkness. The black smoke obscures light. I struggled to see something through the blackness – a wall, a chair, anything.

My firefighter “shadow” told me that if I used my energy and concentration trying to see, I wouldn’t be able to do what matters, find the person who needs help.

In my last search, I felt along the wall, around furniture, and used my other senses and what remained of my strength. It wasn’t graceful, but I finally did what they do: I went toward the fear, believing I could find someone trapped in the house, without futilely trying to control an uncontrollable environment.

I had only abstractly considered emergency response until it mattered to someone I love and did not understand the logistics of it at all until last week.

Two minutes has been defined.



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