Fire safety in the home

Caroline Cassidy

No householder likes to think about what might happen if a fire were to take hold - the damage to your home can be devastating, not to mention the risk of serious injury or death.

home fire safety
home fire safety

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The majority of house fires are started by accident which means most could be prevented. It also means that there are ways in which you can safeguard against fire, so follow these simple rules to keep your home and family safe.

Fit a smoke alarm
Don't assume that you will wake before a fire takes hold - just a few breaths of toxic smoke can render you unconscious and, according to the Government's Fire Kills campaign, can kill a child in under a minute.

Why take the risk when fitting smoke alarms at home is easy and could save your life. You should have a minimum of one alarm on each floor and position them on the ceiling near the middle of the room or hallway. Each alarm should be placed at least 30cm away from a wall or light and be positioned where they can be heard while you sleep.

Any room that contains a large electrical appliance such as a computer, should also be fitted with an alarm. It is not advisable to fit an alarm in the kitchen or bathroom where it can be very easily set off but alarms are available that are fitted with a 'hush' button, allowing you to silence them quickly if you prefer to be extra safe.

Most importantly, be sure to test each alarm weekly.

Safety in the kitchen
More than half of all accidental house fires are started in the kitchen. It's easy to become distracted and leave the cooker or toaster unattended... and kitchen fires can quickly become out of control.

To stay safe in the kitchen, ensure that you are aware of potential hazards, such as saucepan handles over another ring, tea towels or oven gloves hanging over the cooker or loose clothing that can easily catch alight. Keep your oven, hob, grill and toaster clean as crumbs and left-over fat or food can start a fire.

Special care should be taken when cooking with oil, particularly deep-fat frying so be sure to fill your chip pan or fryer no more than one-third full and, if possible, use one that is controlled by a thermostat so that you can check the fat is not getting too hot.

Should the worst happen and you find you have a kitchen fire on your hands, turn off the heat (if possible), and smother any pan fires with a fire blanket or wet tea towel. If an electrical appliance catches fire, switch off the power (pull out the plug where possible) and if the flames do not die down, get out of the house and call the emergency services.

Take care with sockets
Electrical appliances can be a major fire hazard and it is essential that cables, plugs and the appliances themselves are well maintained.

Check regularly for any sign of damage (frayed cable, coloured wires sticking out of plugs or flickering lights, for example) and do not overload sockets as this can lead to overheating.

Remember to turn all appliances off at night (aside from those that are designed to stay on permanently, like freezers) and, if you need to replace a fuse, ensure that it is the right fuse for the job to avoid overheating.

The naked flame
It might sound like common sense but candles, decorative lights and cigarettes are a common cause of house fires. Snuff out candles when you leave the room or go to bed and ensure that they are not placed close to curtains, paper or fabrics that may catch alight.

According to government figures, more people die in fires caused by smoking than anything else so we cannot emphasise enough the need to 'put it out, right out'.

When you turn in, double check that there are no smouldering cigarette butts in the ashtray (or pipe bowl) - it's a good idea to wet them and empty the ashtray into an outside metal bin.

Never be tempted to smoke in bed, especially if you are feeling drowsy, have been drinking or are taking prescription drugs. Use a heavy-bottomed ashtray that cannot be overbalanced easily and do not leave a lit cigarette lying around where it can be knocked and set fire to something.

Of course, it stands to reason that you should keep all smoking paraphernalia out of the reach of children.

Your escape route
It is always a good idea to have an escape route planned in case of a fire. Once you've chosen your route (and it is often via your normal exit), be sure that there are no obstructions, be sure that keys, phones and torches are easy to access and make sure every member of the family knows where they are.

If you have young children it is a good idea to leave your home address by the phone to that they can read it to emergency services in the event of a fire.

Should the worst happen and you are unable to escape, gather the whole family in one room, put cushions, towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to help block out smoke, open the window and call for help.

Many fire and rescue services offer free home fire safety visits, during which they can inspect your home, point out any potential hazards and advise on ways to reduce the risk so if you are concerned or need help, contact your local fire brigade.