Avoiding Fire in the Home

How to Avoid Fire in the Home

Approximately 80% of buildings in the UK now have smoke alarms fitted, but as encouraging as that may seem it’s also true that nearly half of all the 340 deaths from fires in 2010 happened in properties fitted with a smoke alarm.

So what can we do to make our homes safer and to protect ourselves in the event of a fire? Let’s have a look at several factors that play an important role in reducing the likelihood of having a fire in the home.

Electrical Checks

How important is it to check the electrical equipment in your home? Well in 2007 there were more than 43,000 fires reported in UK homes, and of those 19% were because of electrical faults and a further 25% were caused by electrical equipment and appliances not being used properly.

This is an example of what fire damage can do to a house.

This is an example of what fire damage can do to a house.

Tips, Advice and Guidance

  • Check the condition of your wiring. If you have just moved home make it a priority to have your wiring checked by a professional electrician and then do the same every 10 years. If you rent your property then ask to see a copy of the paperwork confirming that your electrics meet the UK national standards BS 1761. (This is a requirement for all Electrical Installations)
  • Check the sockets regularly. If they feel hot or have any discolouration, such as burn marks then have your electrician check them
  • Turn off any electrical equipment not being used. This is especially important at night when fire can spread quickly whilst you are sleeping
  • Check flexible cables on all of your appliances including kettles. If there are any signs of fraying or loose plugs have them replaced before you plug them in
  • Take extra care with hand-held electrical equipment. Once you have finished with a piece of electrical equipment make sure that you switch off and unplug it. This is especially important for items that rely on heat, such as hairdryers and curling tongs, as they may come into contact with materials that can easily catch fire
  • Check an electrical adaptor’s current rate before you plug anything in. It’s important not to exceed the adaptors rating as it may overheat and catch fire
Fire prevention is important to prevent issues like this.

Fire prevention is important to prevent issues like this.

Smoke and Heat Detectors 

The first problem with smoke alarms arises when people disable them because they keep going off. A smoke alarm provides a vital early warning in the event of a fire. That warning may buy you the extra time that you need to escape from the property. If you don’t presently have smoke alarms fitted then a simple phone call to the local fire brigade will result in a friendly visit by them to your home to offer fire safety advice along with the free supply and fitting of smoke alarms if you need them. So here are a few tips for getting the best from your smoke and heat detectors.

  • Make sure that you get smoke alarms that comply with British Standards (BS EN 14604:2005) and that they also carry the British Standard Kite mark or LPBC ‘Horseshoe’ mark
  • Always place the smoke alarms where they will be most effective. That means making sure that you will be able to hear them wherever you are in the home, especially when you are asleep or when doors are closed
  • Where there is only one level in the home then fit the alarms between the living area and the bedrooms, and for two levels fit them at the bottom of the staircase and also on every landing
  • Ensure that you are able to reach the alarms so that you can test them at least once every week
  • Don’t fit the smoke alarm in or near the kitchen or bathroom as it will go off constantly from the cooking fumes and steam
  • Don’t fit a smoke alarm in your garage as it will easily be set off by fumes from a car exhaust

Once a week

Test the smoke alarm by using the test button

Every six months

Open the case and carefully vacuum the inside to remove any dust from around the sensor, or if the unit is sealed then vacuum through the holes.

Once a year

Change the battery. If the low battery warning sounds then replace it sooner.

Fire Extinguishers

The first fire extinguisher on record was patented in 1723 by Ambrose Fleming and basically consisted of a container of fire extinguisher liquid and gunpowder. To put out a fire a series of fuses were lit, exploding the gunpowder and scattering the extinguishing liquid. Believe it or not, the extinguisher actually worked, but can you imagine having such a device in your home today?

Fortunately modern extinguishers are more user friendly, but there are now several types of extinguishers depending on the type of fire it is to be used on. There are four types of fire extinguishers for home use.

Fire can wreck havoc in a house.

Fire can wreck havoc in a house.

  • Water. Good for tackling fires involving wood, paper, and soft furnishings. The water soaks into the materials and cools them while at the same time extinguishing the fire. Care needs to be taken if electricity is involved as water is a great conductor. They are also good where children are in the house as they contain less harmful substances
  • Foam. These work by spreading a film of foam over the fire which starves it of oxygen. They are also safe to use on electrical fires
  • Dry powder (ABC use). These are suitable for fighting class A, B or C fires, that is, ordinary combustibles, flammable liquids or flammable gases. They are cheaper than the foam extinguishers but can leave a lot of damage in their wake, so it might be worth investing in a slightly more expensive foam extinguisher. They can also be dangerous to use in a confined space as inhaling the chemicals can be harmful
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2). These are suitable for extinguishing liquid fires and those involving electrical equipment. Care needs to be taken in ensuring that the fire is out as the CO2 does not cool the fire. They are also not suitable for using on a deep fat fryer as the impact of the jet of CO2 may spread the burning fat around the room.

Several home use fire extinguishers are now suitable for a multitude of uses, so it’s a good idea to do your homework before you commit to buy.

Here are a few tips if you find yourself needing to fight a fire in the home.

  • Don’t attempt to fight a fire unless you feel it’s safe to do so. A general rule of thumb is: if the fire is bigger than you then leave it for the fire service
  • Choose where to position your extinguisher carefully so that you can get to it quickly
  • Buy an extinguisher that you can easily carry and use
  • Don’t position an extinguisher near or over a fire, but make sure it is out of reach of the children
  • Read the instruction when you first get the extinguisher as it may be too late when the fire is burning
  • If you have to use a fire extinguisher make sure you have an escape route at all times
Make sure this doesn’t happen to your house.

Make sure this doesn’t happen to your house.

Safe Furniture

All furniture made after 1950 must meet tough regulations for fire resistance. Fillings must not catch fire easily, upholstery has to be cigarette resistant and covers have to be match resistant. When you buy new furniture that has an element of upholstery you will find a label outlining its credentials. If you have been renting a furnished property from before 1997 it is possible that it may contain some item of non fire resistant furniture. It’s only when there is a change of tenant that these will need to be changed, so it would be worth checking the items.
It is now possible to treat these items with a fire retardant spray which is completely safe to use, and it’s also suitable for almost any other material in the home.

Means of escape

It is always a good idea to make sure that you have a means of escape from your home should there be a fire. Discuss with other members of your household what course of action you should all take if a fire is discovered, and make the safety of everyone of paramount importance. Thinking ahead rather than waiting until disaster happens could be the difference that it makes in saving your life.


Image credit: Amagill