Heaters A - Z

With temperatures plunging we're all rugging up and pulling out the heater. We're also putting our lives and our families' lives in danger.

10,000 homes catch fire each year... Many ignited by a space heater. What's worse, the smoke alarms we rely on to save us are may be useless.

"When I first woke up, I thought I was dreaming and I'd wake up from my dream and my sister would be there and I'd be back to normal ..but it wasn't the case," Linda Buchan. In 1998, Linda and her sister Kim were trapped in a fire in the bedroom of their apartment in the Sydney suburb of Cremorne. The girls escaped, but Kim passed away and Linda suffered horrific injuries.

"(It was) definitely just one moment changed the rest of my life," Linda said.

"I came out from a night out socialising with some friends… it was freezing, I went inside, flicked the heater on and jumped straight into bed… and then, the next thing I... and I then I woke up to flames and smoke all around me and I jumped up, well not jumped up, but I was obviously burnt. I've been burnt on my legs... I woke up with flames literally burning me and then I tried to get to my sister but I just didn't make it… I collapsed in the hallway trying to get to her," Linda recalled.

"It was a heater, I turned the heater on in my room and I kicked my doona off… I got hot and kicked my doona off onto the heater and the rest is… yeah," Linda said.

Linda lost her toes, suffered an hypoxic brain injury and underwent years of rehabilitation.

Almost all of us have space heaters because they're cheap and warm. They're also responsible for 80% of deaths in house fires. When they spark or ignite a bit of clothing, a blanket or the sofa you've got just a couple of minutes before the entire room is ablaze.

Right now two heaters are being recalled - authorities fear many people have them running at home unaware they could at any moment spark a tragedy.

They are the Home Collection 2000W Oscillating Fan Heater (Big W) and the Abode 2000W Oscillating Fan Heater (Woolworths). Both can cause smoke, fumes and fire.

Heater Recall June 2011

Home Collection 2000W Oscillating Fan Heater (Big W) Abode 2000W Oscillating Fan Heater (Woolworths)

Linda Buchan is now determined to make sure the same thing does not happen to you. Linda is the public face of the Winter Fire Campaign of Fire and Rescue NSW. Linda didn't have a smoke detector. Nowadays, by law, we all have to have at least one.

"You have to remember that every fire death that you have you have five people that are badly burned and disfigured for life," said Chief Marc McGinn. Until recently, Chief McGinn ran his brigade at Albany, in California. Now retired, he's on a world tour to explain why the smoke alarm in your house probably won't save your life.

"If we could wave a magic wand and make all the Ionisation smoke alarms go away and replace them with Photoelectric only we would cut our fire deaths in half," Chief McGinn said.

Ionization smoke alarms were the first on the market in the 70's and they're still the most popular. The problem is they're designed to detect flames yet by the time they detect smoke and sound an alarm there's a strong chance you've passed out or died.

"85% of fire deaths happen in the place that you put your head down and sleep, 85% (cut to 09:26) 95% of all the homes in America, and I'm sure it's the same thing here in Australia, are protected by ionization technology and like I said it's an alarm that's really not a smoke alarm,"

This is a smoke alarm. It's a photoelectric alarm - it looks exactly the same, except it uses light to detect smoke. It sounds early... It save lives.

"This is not about recommending one over the other, it's about denouncing, it's about recall, it's about banning the ionization technology and only having the photoelectric technology."

Australian fire departments are convinced... They recommend we use photoelectric alarms in our homes.

"From our point of view we'd like you to have photo electric smoke detector or smoke alarm. We recommend you change your battery once a year and test your battery regularly, probably once a week is a good idea," said Inspector Mick Ollerenshaw (FRNSW).

"We'd also recommend you'd have a practice escape plan, which I'm sure you do, and with every escape plan, we'd like 2 means of exit, so whether that's a door or a window," Inspector Ollerenshaw said.

"Kim was a very vivacious girl, just very sporty and into life and she had a great laugh and was very happy and just a very loving kid. And we miss her terribly," Said Vicky Buchan, Linda's mum. She may have lost one daughter yet Vicky, and all of us, has gained a remarkable woman who is certainly savings countless lives.

"Extremely proud because she's gone through hell and for her to rebuild her life to where she's has got now, she's just got a power of strength and just very proud of her to where she's come and what she's been through and it's just fantastic," Vicky said.

The Top 5 Fire Safety tips:

- Have working photoelectric smoke alarms, check the batteries.

- Have an escape plan with at least two exits.

- Never leave cooking unattended.

- Keep you heater at least a metre clear of objects, especially curtains and blankets.

- Clean the lint filter in your clothes dryer.

"It kills me to think Kim may be had been here if we had those things in place," Linda said.

Story links:

Fire and Rescue NSW - Winter Fire Safety Checklist:


Fire and Rescue NSW - Fire Safety Tips