5 Nights That Could Save Your Life

Night 4 - Fire Danger

It's a fact that candles, tealights, oil burners and the like are becoming a more popular feature of Perth homes - even in summer. But fire fighters tell us that they're also a growing problem with people not using them properly and accidentally starting fires in their own home.

Continuing the 5 Nights That Could Save Your Life, Seven News reporter Paul Kadak spoke to Fire Investigator Phill Cribb who showed us dramatic proof of what can go wrong if a candle is left to burn unattended on a flammable surface (like a plastic chair or television).

Last year in WA there were 1,090 house fires. Around a quarter of them (225) started in the kitchen and 34 were caused by candles.

There were also 7 fire deaths - including that of a 7 month baby who died in a fire caused by a toaster which had been left on for warmth.

There are also dangers outside the home - like barbeques, citronella candles. But uncleaned gutters, unswept leaves, open windows with curtains are also a danger, providing fuel for fire.

For more information the following is courtesy the WorkSafe website www.safetyline.wa.gov.au

Each year in Australia, more than 100 people, often children, die as a result of household fires. Many more are injured, perhaps scarred for life. Even if nobody is hurt, there is great emotional cost in losing a home, with cherished possessions and memories.

The biggest single life saver in home fires is a smoke detector. Every home should have at least one. Split level homes need more. One outside each bedroom is a good precaution. But where people sleep with doors closed, specially when heating or electrical appliances are used, there should be a smoke detector inside the bedroom.

Three steps to prevent household fires:

  • Step One: Spot the Hazard
  • Step Two: Assess the Risk
  • Step Three: Make the Changes - Quickly

There are many fire hazards in an average family house. Consider the following hazards and

  • see if you can spot the hazards in your own home
  • decide how to deal with them
  • then make the changes quickly.

OPEN FIRES AND HEATERS

  • All sources of fire and heat should be carefully watched to avoid the possibility of ignition.
  • Are all open fires protected with a spark proof fire screen?
  • Are there screens around all heaters, including pot belly and slow combustion stoves, gas, electric and kerosene heaters, especially where there are children or elderly people?
  • Are chimneys and flues regularly cleaned, at least once a year, preferably before first use at the start of winter?
  • Never use flammable liquids, such as kerosene or petrol, to start a fire.
  • Always fill kerosene heaters outdoors, and never carry them alight.
  • Keep heaters away from flammable materials, such as curtains and clothes.

ELECTRICAL HAZARDS

  • Handle electricity with utmost caution and turn power off when not in use.
  • Is the electrical wiring in your home in good condition?
  • Consider replacing fuses with electrical safety switches (RCD - residual current device) in your home.
  • Make sure a licensed electrical worker carries out all repairs.
  • Overloading electric double adaptors and power boards - eg with high voltage appliances like heaters - can overheat wiring and start a fire.
  • Do not run electrical cords under carpet or linoleum - they can be damaged and start a fire.
  • Switch off electrical appliances when not in use - including the television - and pull out the plug - but not by the flex.
  • Before going to bed, switch off all appliances not in use.
  • Switch off all appliances if there is a power failure.
  • If your house is unoccupied for more than a day or so, switch off and unplug all appliances at the sockets.
  • Never run an iron or other appliance off a light socket.

GAS HAZARDS

Gas and air make an explosive mixture - make sure you are ready to light the gas stove or heater before you turn on the gas.

If the pilot light does not ignite the burner at once, turn off and check that the pilot light is alight.

If you smell gas...

  • put out cigarettes
  • do not use matches or naked flames
  • Do not operate electrical switches, either on or off.
  • Open doors and windows to get rid of the gas.
  • Check to see if a tap has been left on accidentally, or if a pilot light has gone out.
  • Turn off the whole supply at the meter and immediately call your gas service.

SMOKING HAZARDS

  • If there is a smoker in the house, make sure ashtray contents are carefully emptied, and check furnishings for smoldering butts before leaving the room.
  • Never smoke in bed - many people die after falling asleep with a lighted cigarette.
  • If people must smoke in bedrooms, ensure a stable ashtray is nearby, and install a smoke detector inside the room.
  • Do not smoke in garages and sheds where flammable liquids are stored.
  • Don't smoke when fueling lawnmowers, or other outdoor motors.

KITCHEN HAZARDS

  • The kitchen is one of the most hazardous locations in your home. Stoves, ovens and electrical appliances are all potential fire hazards.
  • Do not leave towels or washing over the stove to dry.
  • Don't let electric cords rest on or near stove elements or burners.
  • Turn pan handles inward on stoves, but make sure they do not extend over a lit burner or element.
  • Never block ventilators - air circulation reduces risks if there is a gas leak.
  • Never leave the kitchen when using fat or cooking oil.
  • If a frying pan fire occurs, use a damp teatowel, wooden chopping board or pot lid to smother the flame.

BATHROOM HAZARDS

  • Light fittings and other electrical appliances must be out of reach of a person in a bath or shower.
  • Portable electric heaters should not be used in a bathroom. Heaters should be in a fixed position high on the wall.
  • A wall heater left on in a closed bathroom can start a fire.
  • All portable electric appliances, such as shavers, hair dryers etc, should be switched off and unplugged after use.
  • Always check water temperature before allowing children to bathe or shower.
  • Teach children to turn on the cold tap first, then the hot, to reduce the risk of burns from scalding water.
  • Have hot and cold taps clearly marked, if possible with extra red and green paint or tape for those too young to read.
  • Supervise children while they are bathing.
  • Have your hot water temperature set between 50 and 55°. Remember it takes less than a second for 60° water to seriously scald a child. (See Homesafe checklist).

ROOMS FOR THE ELDERLY

  • Guards are essential round any open fire, and a good safety measure round other heaters - sudden giddiness or loss of footing can lead to tragedy.
  • Electric or gas points should be at waist level, to avoid the need to bend low.
  • Electric blankets should not be used for people who are incontinent or sensitive to heat. If used, they should be turned off before the person goes to bed.
  • Keep all bedding and clothing far away from heaters.
  • Fixed electric heaters high on the wall are safer than portable heaters.

OUTDOORS

  • If your house is threatened by a bushfire, the chances of survival for both the house and its occupants can be greatly increased if house and surrounds are properly maintained.
  • Leaves and debris should be cleared from gutters regularly.
  • Overhanging branches should be pruned.
  • Avoid stacking wood or flammable material against the house.
  • Place barbecues and incinerators on cleared ground away from the house.
  • Keep children away from lit barbecues.
  • Know your local fire rules for lighting barbecues and incinerators.
  • Make sure outdoor taps work and that hoses are in good order and long enough to reach all parts of the house.
  • Keep fuel containers away from the house.
  • Make sure LP gas cylinder safety valves face away from the house. Turn off the control valve if threatened by fire.
  • Learn what to do if a bushfire threatens your home.
  • Learn the meaning of the fire indicator boards.

GARAGES, SHEDS AND OUTBUILDINGS

  • Garages and sheds often contain fire safety hazards.
  • Get rid of flammable rubbish, such as oily rags, and open containers of oil or solvents.
  • Never store chemicals, such as chlorine, where they can come into contact with other chemicals.
  • Petrol, kerosene and other flammable liquids must be kept in approved containers and clearly labeled.
  • Petroleum fuels and nitrogen fertilisers can combine in an explosive mixture - store well apart.
  • Do not use naked lights or smoke in the garage or workshop.
  • Always clean up shavings after woodwork.
  • Use properly installed electrical sockets for power tools. Avoid makeshift wiring extensions and double adaptors.
  • Where possible choose non-flammable paints, strippers, cleaners etc.
  • Fuel lawnmowers and other motors outdoors only.
  • Where electric welders are used, ensure the working area is kept clear of flammable materials, and the equipment is switched off and left safe after use.

FLAMMABLE FLUIDS

  • Incorrect storage and use of flammable liquids is a major cause of fires in homes.
  • Do not place kerosene heaters in draughts, or where they can be knocked over.
  • Whenever children or elderly people are in the house, heaters should be fixed to the floor or wall, and should have an extra guard around them.
  • Keep heaters clean - always.
  • Never clean clothes with petrol - you can buy non-flammable cleaning fluids.
  • Do not store newspapers, rags or other flammable material near heat sources.
  • Never smoke when you are carrying petrol, kerosene, or other flammable fluids.
  • Keep flammable fluids in correctly labeled containers which meet Australian Standards.
  • There are legal requirements for storing quantities of flammable fluids on your premises. If in doubt, contact your local Fire Station.

FLAMMABLE FURNITURE

Nearly all modern upholstered furniture is filled with polyurethane foam. It can very easily catch fire. If it does, the fire spread is often very rapid, and the smoke and fumes allow little time for escape.

Your furniture could be ignited by a cigarette or match, so be careful with all smokers' material.

Before you buy, ask the furniture supplier if your proposed purchase complies with Australian Standards for ignitability of furniture coverings.

Dealing with fire hazards round your home will reduce the risk of a fire happening.

SMOKE DETECTORS

The purpose of a residential smoke detector is to sense the presence of smoke in the home and to alert the occupants, giving them time to escape.

  • Smoke detectors can either be wired into household electricity, with battery back-up, or be battery operated.
  • Wired detectors are considered more effective in the long term - battery operated detectors fail if people "borrow" or fail to renew the batteries.
  • Anybody who can use a screwdriver to drive two small screws in the ceiling can install a battery-operated detector. Ideally, one detector should be placed outside each sleeping area and on each additional house level.
  • In a single level home, one detector may be sufficient if all the bedrooms connect to a common passageway from the living areas.
  • Extra detectors are warranted in homes with separated sleeping areas.
  • Where occupants tend to sleep with doors closed, a smoke detector should be installed in each bedroom, particularly if heaters or electrical appliances are used in those rooms.

IF FIRE STRIKES

Consider the following strategies for responding to a fire in your home.

ACT QUICKLY

  • Get all the family together and out of the house promptly, closing as many doors and windows as possible as you leave.
  • Don't panic and don't waste time.
  • If the house is filled with smoke, get down low near the floor, where there is cleaner air, and crawl to safety.
  • CALL THE FIRE EMERGENCY SERVICE - In Western Australia Telephone 000

IF YOU ARE CUT OFF BY FIRE

  • Close the door of the room.
  • Go to the window and try to attract attention.
  • If the room fills with smoke, lean out of the window. If smoke outside prevents this, try lying close to the floor where the air is clearer, until you hear the Fire Brigade.
  • Get out through the window, if this is possible.
  • If the window will not open, break the glass with a heavy object. Try to clear jagged glass from the lower edge and, if possible, place a blanket over the sill before escaping.

TACKLING A FIRE

  • Never attempt to fight a fire yourself unless it is in its earliest stage. Never do so if there is the slightest risk to yourself or others.
  • If you suspect there is a fire behind a closed door, don't open it.
  • Remember that smoke can be as dangerous as flames.
  • If a frying pan catches fire, turn off the heat, smother the flames with a lid or damp cloth, and leave it for half an hour.

STOP, DROP, COVER AND ROLL

  • If your clothes catch fire, stop (don't run), drop to the ground, cover your face with your hands, and roll to smother the flames.
  • If someone else's clothes are on fire, he or she should be laid on the floor and rolled in blankets, rugs or a thick coat.

HOME EXIT DRILL

  • Be prepared for a fire or other emergency. Use your H.E.D. (Home Exit Drill).
  • Draw a floor plan of your home.
  • Mark two ways out of each room (a window and a door).
  • Make sure everyone knows two ways out of each room.
  • Make sure everyone knows the layout of the house and where all the existing exits are.
  • Mark a meeting place at the front of the house. With your family, practice escaping with your H.E.D.

Links

WorkSafe - Information on fire safety and prevention.
www.safetyline.wa.gov.au
click on "Information", then "Other", then "Homesafe"

FESA - fire service information
www.fesa.wa.gov.au