The terrible news that a woman and two children died in a house fire last night in Clondalkin led us to think about our own awareness of fire safety, and if we’d know what to do if a fire broke out while we were sleeping. Surprise, surprise, our knowledge was hazy, to say the least. But with the knowledge that an average of 36 people die from fires each year in Ireland, fire safety is something we should all be aware of, and constantly checking.
You should have at least one working smoke alarm on each floor of your house. Check these regularly and replace used batteries immediately. It’s also a good idea to have a number of fire extinguishers in your home, especially in your kitchen. A carbon monoxide alarm should also be installed and maintained in your house.
This is important on a number of levels. Firstly, make sure items, including blankets and clothing, are not piled up next to sources of heat, as these could pose fire hazards. In the kitchen, dish towels, sponges, paper towels, and other items can catch fire if placed too close to a hot stove. Finally, lots of clutter can impede your escape if a fire was to happen – so keep passageways and doorways etc tidy.
Make a plan
We know it’s not nice to think of the worst, but when it comes to fire, a little bit of prep can mean the difference between life and death. It’s recommended that you plan two escape routes from a house, and that you practise these frequently. Keep those routes clear and ensure that any keys for doors or windows are accessible at all times. Crawl low in smoke and close any doors behind you. Get out of the house and stay out. Call the fire brigade asap. If you are trapped in a room, close the door and seal the bottom of the door with a towel or blanket. Open the window and attract attention.
Never leave flames unattended
This goes for all types of flames – candles, fireplaces and cigarettes. If you smoke, try to smoke outside, or if you have to smoke indoors, make sure you use stable ashtrays that are regularly emptied and washed. Never leave a butt smouldering in the ashtray. Hide all matches and lighters out of reach of young children – even if you think they are responsible, curiosity could get the better of them one day. Finally, if you have an open fire, have your chimney swept regularly (twice a year), and always use a fireguard.
Watch appliances and electrics
Never overload electrical outlets with numerous trailing sockets and extension cords. If you notice a plug is loose, replace it. Keep an eye on your domestic electrical appliances and get them serviced if you suspect there is a fault. In particular, clean the lint from your dryer after every load as this could potentially be a fire hazard. Don’t be tempted to cut corners by using old appliances that mightn’t be up to current safety standards.
Teach your kids about fire safety
Your children are never too young to learn about fire safety. Involve them in drawing up and practising a fire escape plan. Teach them the ‘Stop, Drop & Roll’ technique – stop moving, lie down and roll if their clothes catch fire – and to touch doors before opening – if it’s hot, don’t open it. Most importantly, teach them that fire is a tool not a toy – so if they find matches or a lighter, tell an adult rather than experimenting with them. In the kitchen, teach them to stay away from ovens and other hot appliances.
Watch out for Carbon Monoxide
Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odourless, colourless gas created when fuels (such as wood, coal, natural gas, propane, and oil) burn incompletely. Make sure you appliances are installed and serviced annually by a registered gas installer or a qualified service agent for your fuel type. Keep vents, flues and chimneys clear. Use a carbon monoxide alarm that complies with EN 50291, carries a CE mark, has an end of life indicator and carries an independent certification mark. See www.carbonmonoxide.ie for more.