Black and white Sound Cloud icon Black and white YouTube icon Black and white LinkedIn icon Black and white Facebook icon

Do I Smell Smoke?

In Case of Fire

A man extinguishes an open fire with a fire extinguisher.

Based on the training module “Arson and Fire Safety” in the Safety Member Certification program.[1]

From the Bible

And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? (Zechariah 3:2).

And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire (Jude1:23a).

Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out (Proverbs 26:20).

And it came to pass, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the palace of the king's house, and burnt the king's house over him with fire, and died (1 Kings 16:18).


An old saying is, "Where there's smoke, there's fire." Before fire detectors and alarms, smoke was the primary warning of a fire. Even today, it is an important indicator.

October is Fire Prevention Month. Besides knowing how to prevent fires, we also need to know how to respond in case there is a fire, with keeping people safe as the first priority.

In the News

Phoenix, Arizona, May 17, 2022 - A fire started on a Tuesday morning at Grace Pointe Church in downtown Phoenix. It was severe enough to cause part of the roof to collapse. A dozen persons staying in a homeless shelter in the church were evacuated. They lost all their possessions, but escaped without injury.[2]

style="text-decoration:underline;"Southport, North Carolina, September 22, 2019 - Fire started in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Southport on a Sunday morning. The priest and staff safely evacuated everyone from the building and helped put out the fire. The damage was minor.[3]

* Even if there is no fire, smoke itself is a health hazard, so evacuation was still needed:

West Nashville, Tennessee, March 28, 2022 - It was a Monday morning. Firefighters responded to a report of smoke in the West Nashville Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Everyone in a day care in the church was evacuated. There was no fire, and the source of the smoke was not found.[4]

Shenango Township, Pennsylvania, August 6, 2022 - It was Saturday night at the campground of the National Association of the Church of God in Shenango Township. Everything was ready for the annual conference to begin on Sunday. Then a fire broke out in the dining hall and spread to an adjoining dormitory. Fire departments in Pennsylvania and Ohio responded. Two people in a building got out safely.

The conference started as scheduled. Other arrangements had to be made for providing meals, for part of the housing, and for the locations of some of the meetings.[5]

Beecher, Illinois, September 19, 2021 - The historic rural church building of Saint Paul's Lutheran Church burned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon. Oktoberfest was in progress in the parking lot when the fire began in the church. All the people in and around the church were safely evacuated.[6]

Peace River, Alberta, Canada, July 3, 2021 - Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic church in Peace River was hit during the string of attacks targeting Catholic churches in Canada in protest of abuse more than a century before. A bishop and the local priest were there on a Saturday night when someone threw two Molotov cocktails through windows. The two clerics limited damage by fighting the ensuing fire until firefighters arrived.

They were able to hold services the next day. In his sermon, the priest likened forgiveness of haters to putting out the fire instead of fanning the flames.[7]

Videocast and Show Notes

The subject of this article is covered by Kris in a videocast on the Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel on YouTube.[8] His perspective comes from his experience in the military, law enforcement, and church security.

Beneath the video screen is a link to the Show Notes (an article summary). This is available for one week (until the next article is posted). This is a downloadable PDF. It can be printed to share with others.

Smelling Smoke: Detecting a Fire

What if you're in the church building and you smell smoke? Maybe someone in the neighborhood is cooking on an outdoor grill, or burning leaves, or using a fireplace. For the past few years in many parts of the country, the smoke came from wildfires. You know something is burning or has burned.

What if the smoke (or the sound of an alarm) comes from a fire in the church? What do you do? That depends on where you are, where the fire is, what kind of fire, and who is in the building.

Ready for a Fire - Just in Case

Fire prevention is another entire subject, but if there is a fire we need to be ready, not just us, but also the building. Briefly, this means:

When It Is a Fire

The quick answer for "What do we do when there is a fire?" is "Get people out and fight the fire." The how of these actions is very important. This is outlined in the section "What to Do During Fire Evacuations" in Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches v3[9]:


Get people in the area of the fire out to a safe place. If any are injured, first assist them in getting to safety. Burns and injuries can then be treated in a safe place.


Alert the Safety Team ("Code Red" and location). Let them know where the fire is and whether total evacuation is needed. A team member will call the Fire Department or 911. If there is to be an evacuation, sound the fire alarm. If a service or other event is in session, notify the leader who will notify the group or the congregation when the alarm sounds.


Do what you can to contain the fire. Move flammables away from the fire if you can safely do so. Close doors and windows to the area of the fire. If the fire is in a metal container and a lid is available, put the lid on it.


Get everyone in the building to safety. This means outside. Have an assembly area where they can meet. See if anyone is missing. Teachers take roll of their classes.


Older elevators should not be used to escape a fire. First, the elevator can stop if the power or hydraulics is cut off, trapping occupants in the shaft. Second, smoke can get into the shaft, suffocating those using it. Third, the elevator shaft can become a channel for the fire itself.

There are newer, fire-safe elevators which can be used during a fire, They are in fire-proof shafts with emergency power for operation. These will be marked as safe for fire evacuation. If not so marked, use stairs or an outside fire escape. By the way, consider fire-safe elevators if the church is building new, expanding, or remodeling.

Trapped in Building

Some people may be trapped in the building. Teach them beforehand to

Evacuating Children

Young children can be led out with a safety walking rope (like the ones used for taking preschoolers on a walk outside).

For the nursery, have evacuation cribs. One person can roll 4, 5 or 6 babies to the door in one crib. Have enough of them to evacuate all when the nursery is full.

School-age children can file out with the teacher leading and the assistant following.

Evacuating Injured, Ill, Disabled and Elderly

Some persons cannot make it out on their own. Some will have to go in wheelchairs; some will have to be carried. Others may walk with help - some of these may need a transfer & walking gait belt.


If you are where the fire is, and it is not too large, you might be able to extinguish it.

Let's start in the kitchen. Cooking ranges, open flame grills, and deep fryers are common sources of kitchen fires, especially grease fires. Fixed (installed) cooking appliances should have installed kitchen fire suppressors. These usually have nozzles mounted in the ventilation hoods. Class K fire extinguishers are made for kitchens. If there are no extinguishers, a grease fire may be smothered with salt or baking soda.

Fire extinguishers are the best-known devices for putting out fires. Learn what kinds to use and how to use them.

Kinds of Extinguishers. There are five basic types of fire extinguishers:

Fire Extinguisher Placement. Fire extinguishers should be placed where they are close enough to be used for a fire anywhere in the building. No more than 75 feet away for Class A fires, 50 feet for Class B fires, and 30 feet for Class K. The larger the area of the building, the more extinguishers you'll need.

Using a Fire Extinguisher. Learn the right way to use a fire extinguisher. A helpful acronym from the National Fire Protection Association is PASS:

By the way, have Safety Team members on patrol inside the church buildings check the fire extinguishers. Look for signs of use or tampering and check the pressure.

Fire Drills

Almost all of us remember fire drills in school. These became more commonplace after the Our Lady of the Angels School fire in 1958.[10] Some of us have had fire drills where we work. A church should have a fire drill each year.

Using a floor plan of the church, plan for fire evacuation, including the location of the re-assembly area.

Have the Safety Team, ushers, and teachers participate in a pre-drill. They will lead in the full fire drill as well as in a real evacuation if there is one. A special drill can be held just for Sunday School classes.

After the drill, evaluate how it went. Were there any problems? Should any evacuation routes be changed? Are there too many people for one door? If fire department personnel are present, they can provide their evaluations.

Training Notes

Each Church Safety Team should have all its members trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. As can be seen on the table below, "Arson and Fire Safety" is the sixth of eight training modules. A person passing all the modules and certification tests will be a Certified Safety Member for two years.

Three training formats are available:

Online Events (live Zoom classes) are available to both individuals and teams. Kris is the teacher for the Online Events, They are held on Sundays at 3:00 PM Central Time. The first quarter of the 2022-2023 school year began on September 11. In the chart below, the classes already taken are highlighted in blue. The next class, on October 16, is the training module for this article, "Arson and Fire Safety."





Training Module


Sep 11

Nov 13

Jan 29

Mar 26

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 18

Nov 20

Feb 5

Apr 2

Active Shooter Response


Sep 25

Dec 4

Feb 12

Apr 16

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 2

Dec 11

Feb 19

Apr 23

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 9

Dec 18

Feb 26

Apr 30

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 16

Jan 8

Mar 5

May 7

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 23

Jan 13

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies


If there is a fire in the church, be ready to evacuate. Also, know how to put it out.

Also in This Month…

October has five articles. The other four are "1999 Temple Grounds Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned), "The Critical Choice" (To Shoot or Not Shoot), "A Safe Distance" (Isolating Offenders), and "Blue Life Support" (The Cornelius Project).


  1. Kris Moloney, "Arson and Fire Safety," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Marissa Sarbak, Desiree Fluellen, Stephanie Olmo, and Brent Corrado, "12 people displaced after fire burns church near downtown Phoenix," Fox 10 (Phoenix), May 17, 2022, updated May 19, 2022 [].
  3. WECT News Staff, "Churchgoers evacuated during fire call at Southport Church," WECT 6, Updated September 22, 2019 [].
  4. Tony Garcia, "Day care evacuated after smoke spotted," WSMV, March 28, 2022 [].
  5. Melissa Klaric, "‘It's challenging'; Fire disrupts church's large annual gathering," The Herald, August 9, 2022 [].
  6. ABC7 Chicago Digital Team, "Beecher church fire destroys historic site during annual Oktoberfest celebration," ABC 7 Chicago, September 20, 2021 [].
  7. By Rebel News, Catholic priest urges forgiveness after helping to extinguish church fire lit by Molotov cocktails, Rebel News, July 06, 2021 [].
  8. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube [].
  9. Kris Moloney, "Ch2: Scholarly Article; Fire Safety and Evacuations" in the "Instructor's Guide" for "Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches v3," Sheepdog Church Security, Copyright © 2016-2017.
    1. Citation references for this article in the Instructor's Guide in order of citation:
      1. Bush, E. M. (2015). Smoke inhalation is the most common cause of death in house fires. Michigan State University Extension. [].
      2. South Brazos County Fire Department. (2013). Fire Extinguishers. [].
      3. Bukowski, R. (2012). Addressing the needs of people using elevators for emergency evacuation. Fire Technology, 48(1), 127-136.
      4. Liao, Y. J., Lo, S. M., Ma, J., Liu, S., Liao, G. X. (2014). A study on people's attitudes to the use of elevators for fire escape. Fire Technology, 50(2), 363-378.
      5. National Fire Protection Association. (2012). Fire extinguishers. [].
      6. Brown, L. M., Hyer, K., Polivka-West, L. (2007). A comparative study of laws, rules, codes and other influences on nursing homes' disaster preparedness in the Gulf Coast states. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 25(5), 655-675.
      7. Christensen, K. M., Blair, M. E., Holt, J. M. (2007). The built environment, evacuations, and individuals with disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 17(4), 249-254.
  10. "Our Lady of the Angels School fire," Wikipedia [].