Nearly every child in America, and much of the rest of the world, will learn stop, drop and roll in school, but does it really work? It certainly feels a little awkward, low tech and silly when we’re young, but could it save your life or should you do something completely different if you catch fire?
When you or your clothes are on fire, the stop, drop and roll technique really does work. It is the best way to put out this type of fire by yourself. Though it seems simple, its effectiveness is based on science.
This technique should be taught and used whenever possible. In the rest of this article we will take a look at how to properly use the stop, drop and roll method, why it works, and what to do after the fire is out. Here’s what you need to know.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Table of Contents
What Is Stop, Drop, And Roll?
Stop, drop and roll is a technique used to put out a fire on the human body, or more precisely, to put out a fire that is on clothing that is being worn on the human body.
This may sound like a bit of nitpicking but, in fact, with young children this needs to be stressed when they learn the technique or otherwise they can end up doing a stop, drop and roll when they say, burn a finger, or even just when a smoke detector goes off.
This is important because if there’s one thing that’s very clear, it’s that when your clothes are on fire, you’re likely to be a bit (or a lot) panicked and you don’t want to be searching through your memory desperately trying to remember what that 27-step program to extinguishing the flames was.
So, as the name suggests you are expected to carry out three fairly simple steps:
- Stop – the person who is on fire should stop immediately when they recognize that they are on fire. While it might seem a little trivial, continued motion can act to fan the flames and add more oxygen to the fire. This can make it burn faster and stronger and you don’t want that.
- Drop – this means the person who is on fire needs to drop to the ground, ideally into a full lying position, and at the same time they should cover their face with their hands (this will stop them from getting hurt as they carry out the last part of the process and may stop their face from getting burned too).
- Roll – then the goal is to roll over and over again (back and forth) until the fire is completely extinguished.
Here’s a demonstration of the technique in action, along with a good reason not to wear loose clothing while you’re cooking with fire:
Does Stop, Drop, And Roll Really Work?
The reason it works is very simple too and it’s a scientific technique not just something that seems to do the trick.
To understand why it works, let’s take a look at the basics of how fire works:
What Is A Fire?
Fire is the “visible effect of the process of combustion” according to Science Learn and while this is absolutely true, you need three things to be available in order for something to burn:
- You need heat – fires are hot and this is because they are, generally speaking, an exothermic oxidation reaction. Thus as things burn, they supply their own heat, but to get a fire started, it needs enough heat to get going.
- You need fuel – fuel is the thing which is burned in the fire. In the case of a fire that is on the human body, that fuel is likely to be your clothing and if allowed to burn for long enough, eventually the fuel is completely consumed.
- You need oxygen – it wouldn’t be an oxidation reaction without oxygen and of the three components of a fire, this is the easiest component to remove.
For a more visual example to understand how fire works, watch this video:
When you roll around on the floor over and over again, you are removing the oxygen source from the flames and thus, hopefully, extinguishing them.
In fact, depending on the material which has caught fire – it is possible for an effective stop, drop and roll to prevent you from burning yourself at all.
Not all materials burn at the same rate, though, but what is absolutely true is that if you are by yourself, the stop, drop and roll technique will give you the greatest chance of making it through the fire with the least possible injuries.
Also read: House Fire Temperature: How Hot Does It Get?
Can You Use A Fire Extinguisher On Yourself?
It’s not impossible to use a fire extinguisher on yourself and it can be effective. However, it is complicated and it can be very tricky to aim the device at yourself because they aren’t designed to be used on yourself.
This means that using a fire extinguisher on yourself could be very dangerous. You’d be wasting time and thus letting the fire burn for longer than it needs to.
You simply can’t get a better result than dropping to the floor instantly, covering your face, and rolling over and over.
Can Somebody Else Help If I Am On Fire?
Yes, and if at all possible, they should help.
There are two things that they may be able to do for you that can enhance the results of the stop, drop, and roll technique:
- Grab a rug or blanket and wrap you in it: this is a good way to seal the body off from oxygen and reduce the flames, this can be done while the person is rolling.
- Grab a fire extinguisher or even a bucket of water: Use it to put the flames out on the body as it can be effective, especially if used in conjunction with the stop, drop, and roll.
What Should I Do After I Have Put A Fire Out On Myself?
OK, once the flames are out, you should take time to assess any burns that you may have picked up while the clothes were burning.
If you are very lucky, the damage was only to your clothes.
According to the Mayoclinic, for any minor burns you want to:
- Cool the area down. (Use cool running water or a wet compress).
- Remove any rings, bracelets, or other tight items on the affected area (you may have to cut them off if the area ends up swollen).
- Do not break blisters (they are meant to stop the wounds from becoming infected) – if one breaks, keep it clean.
- When the burn is cooled – use an aloe vera or moisturizing lotion on the site to rehydrate it.
- Bandage it – cover with sterile gauze and loosely bandage to protect the skin.
- Take a pain killer as needed – any over the counter pain reliever is fine for this.
Warning: For anything more than a minor burn, seek medical attention!
Does stop, drop, and roll really work? Yes, if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t teach it all the way across North America and starting at school age. It’s a technique that recognizes the dangers of a fire on your body and the need to extinguish that fire as quickly as possible. It requires no additional tools or equipment and can be carried out pretty much everywhere.
Most importantly, it’s easy to remember. You’d be amazed at how much you can forget in the panic of noticing that your pants are on fire, but you won’t forget stop, drop and roll. Sure, you can make it even more effective if someone else is nearby with access to a fire extinguisher or even a fire blanket, but by yourself? Stop, drop, and roll is your best hope of a happy ending with a fire on your body.