Thirty-eight people perished in Resorts World Manila, after a deranged man stormed the resort casino complex, carted off gambling chips, and set gaming tables on fire. While the perpetrator fired indiscriminate shots to the ceiling with a high-powered firearm, none of the casualties succumbed due to gunshot wounds. Instead, they died of suffocation from smoke inhalation inside the gaming area.

While investigations are pointing to a lapse in security and lack of an emergency evacuation plan, casualties could have been reduced had the victims not given in to panic after the rampage started.

Most of the casualties - 22 of them hotel or casino guests and 13 employees - were found in the second and eighth floors of the establishment. Some were reportedly found inside bathrooms, where they took refuge.

People caught in the rampage described the incident as horrifying, which triggered a natural response - panic.

In a fire, especially inside a hotel or a commercial establishment, the two things that usually lead to death are smoke and panic. And when the latter sets in, it grows and usually results in a person doing things that harm more than save.

It has been shown that the more a person panics, the less likely they can save themselves or others.

The key to holding panic at bay is to be aware of the situation and think of how to get out it. Fear is natural when faced with emergency or dangerous situations. But it should not escalate to panic, which is often overpowering and paralyzing.

Get down

What most people are unaware of is that smoke from a fire starts from above and works its way down - from the ceiling to the floor, in the case of an enclosed area. That’s why the rule is always to get down and crawl out during a fire, especially when smoke gets thick. Whether it is on your knees or belly, there is a greater chance of escape and survival crawling out of the burning area than running out.

Remember, fresh air necessary to stay alive is at or near the floor. So get down and stay down while moving out.

Another fact is that smoke stings the eyes, and too much burning sensation will naturally cause the eyes to close shut. So everything that can be done to survive will most likely be done blind. That is why being aware of where fire exits are located is extremely important especially in unfamiliar surroundings.

Staying down while moving will help conserve your breath and prolong the ability to keep your eyes open.

It is best to breathe through the nose, and use something to filter the smoke such as a shirt or towel or even a small handkerchief while making your way out of the burning area.

Presence of mind is key to avoid casualties during a fire
Presence of mind is key to avoid casualties during a fire

Get out

When caught in fire, the objective is to get out and not get trapped inside. While the fire and smoke may not have reached the area you’re in, it is still best to make your way out to safety. Many victims succumb because they chose to lock themselves in rather than get out to a safe place.

If doors are blocking the exit, always remember to check the door knob first for heat. If the door or the knob is hot, do not open it. Chances are the fire is just right on the other side of the portal. However, if it is possible to hold the door, place one palm on the door in case there is need to quickly shut it.

Open the door slightly to check conditions then make your way towards the exit. Always stay on the side of the exit door, so as not to miss it especially if smoke has enveloped the area.

When making your way down the stairs of the fire exit, always hold on to the handrails. It is to keep you from falling when there are others madly dashing out to safety. Being knocked down is not an option because you may not be able to get up.

If on your way down, you are confronted with heavy smoke, do not force your way through. It is extremely dangerous and could likely get you killed. The option is to head back up to the roof and wait to be rescued. It is best to leave the exit door open once on the roof to allow the smoke to escape.

But everywhere else, close the exit doors to hold the fire at bay. It takes a while for most doors to burn down and you could be saving a life other than yours.

And if there is an opportunity, or no one has done so yet, call the fire department or emergency numbers to report the fire. MIMS