We have all seen the numerous harrowing events in the news where people have lost loved ones during building fires. Fires that could have been prevented or the risks reduced had the right fire safety procedures been followed or the best fire escape emergency equipment such as gloves and hoods been put in place prior to the events occurring. Were you aware that you are four times more likely to die in a fire if you don’t have a smoke alarm fitted and in good working order? Or that two fires every twenty-four hours are caused by unsupervised candles that are left to catch on to soft furnishings or knocked over by pets? These are easily avoided and preventable fires if we all just follow simple fire prevention advice.
Obviously, the advice that is provided here is not a definitive guide, expert advice should always be sought and there are many information services and websites available that can give you all the information you require to help survive a fire and common sense should always be used at all times. The aim here is just to give you some useful tips and information on how best to prevent a fire from occurring in the first place
Fire basics: what is needed to start a fire?
The fire triangle – three things are needed to start a fire:
- A source of fuel – solid (wood, paper, plastic, loose packaging materials, rubbish, furniture, mattresses) liquid (oils, paints, alcohol, petroleum-based face, and body creams) or gas (Natural gas, propane; aerosol products). Fuels compose of pretty much everything that is around us.
- Something to ignite it – hot surfaces; heaters, lighting, naked flames, cigarettes; the sun, electrical equipment. Any object that produces heat or a spark may become the source of ignition.
- Oxygen – in the air around us
If one of these elements of the fire triangle is missing then the fire won’t start. It is your responsibility in the home to make everyone aware of these, including young children, and to ensure that you take all precautions necessary to reduce the risk of a fire.
What happens during a fire?
A fire will continue to keep burning until one of the three elements from the fire triangle has been removed. If one of the three elements is in abundance in the area surrounding you then the fire will spread more rapidly. When the oxygen in the surrounding area has been used up the fire will seek further oxygen supplies, the flames will rapidly reach out and travel through open doors or break windows in search of new oxygen, consuming any invaluable and precious combustible treasures in its path. The composition and amount of toxic smoke given off during a fire will depend on the combustibles being burned. There are numerous chemicals that can be present in the air during a fire including carbon monoxide; carbon dioxide and soot. All of which will cause your breathing system to shut down within minutes if you are not prepared with a fire escape hood covering your face.
What fire safety equipment is available?
Before thinking about what is available you should first consider the potential fire hazards, any fire safety issues and ensure you know the potential fire escape routes in your home. Then look at what would be sound investments to keep in your home in case the worst was to happen. Remember you will not need it until you need it!
First and foremost you need a smoke alarm installed in your home that is in good working order. As the evidence shows, you can greatly reduce your risks of dying just by having one. Then consider other options: fire retardant gloves can provide the wearer the ability to move extremely hot objects which might be preventing the escape procedure; fire escape hoods can provide up to 60 minutes in which to escape by filtering the air to prevent toxic smoke particles from entering the breathing tubes; fire blankets and fire escape ladders can provide an easy escape route. Fire extinguishers are of course available and are varied but should only be used if you are competent in their use – your first consideration should always be to exit the building.
Prevention of a fire – General tips
- Ensure your smoke alarm is installed in a suitable place and is in good working order
- Put cigarettes out! Unfortunately every six days someone in the UK dies from a fire caused by a cigarette.
- Be safe in the kitchen: take precautions if you need to leave the kitchen whilst cooking, take any pans off the heat to reduce risk, and never cook under the influence of alcohol!
- Think electrics: ensure electrical equipment is kept away from water or any fuel source – don’t put the kitchen roll next to the toaster; inspect leads – if they are faulty don’t use them, and don’t overload the plug socket.
- Candle safety: always place them securely and away from any fuel source that can catch fire like curtains and make sure they are completely out when you leave the room or at night. Do not leave children or pets alone with candles.
No matter how careful you are, fires can and will still happen, the best way to deal with this is to be prepared and have a clear escape plan in place, ensuring all the family knows what to do in the event of a fire. Having family fire safety equipment such as gloves, masks, or hoods that prevent the inhalation of smoke during a fire in the home can give you the reassurance that you will have those extra precious seconds to escape, time that is crucial during a fire.