Fire Hazards

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Don't let everything you own perish in flames

A raging blaze can consume your valuable property even before fire fighters arrive.

A smoldering fire with deadly smoke or toxic fumes and gases can injure and even kill you and those you love. Fires like these are everyone's worst nightmare.

You can prevent fires through awareness. In this article, Workers Life tries to show how fires start. You'll also learn how to protect yourself and your family from fire.

Some of the causes could be smoking, frayed electrical cords, overloading electrical plugs, short- circuited plugs, poor storage of flammable liquids and chemicals and unattended candles left burning.

Smoking:

Are you aware of how deadly smoke can be?

  • Home fires caused by careless smokers are still the leading cause of deaths from fires in the home.
  • In 1998, fires caused by cigarettes killed 1 410 people.
  • Most smoking- related home fires started in the living room.

Somebody drops a cigarette on furniture or carpeting. It smolders for hours. By the time it bursts into flame, family members are usually asleep and are taken by surprise.

Never smoke if you are:

  • In bed
  • Overtired
  • Drowsy
  • Taking strong medication
  • Drinking large amounts of alcoholic beverages

If you smoke, take these precautions:

  • Never smoke in bed. Get up and sit where you are less likely to doze off.
  • Use large metal or glass ashtrays.
  • Before you go to bed, check floors and furniture for dropped cigarette or embers.
  • Dump ashtrays into empty metal containers.
  • Never light cigarettes, pipes or cigars near flammable liquids, such as petrol, paint thinners, or nail polish remover.

Heaters:

  • Heating units are the leading cause of home fires and they occupy the second slot in the cause of fire deaths.

Wood or coal heaters:

  • Is there space of at least 90 centimeters between the heater and the wall objects?
  • Has your heater been installed and maintained by a qualified professional?
  • Are the stove, flue and chimney cleaned out once a year?
  • Do you cover the fireplace with a screen to catch stray sparks?
  • Do you keep clothing away from heaters flames?

Portable Heaters:

  • Is your heater the right size for the space you want it to heat?
  • Is there enough ventilation while the heater is still working?
  • Do you wait until the heater has cooled before you move it?
  • Do you avoid using an electric heater in damp or wet areas?
  • Do you use only heavy-duty extension cords.?

Fires in the kitchen:

Cooking is the second largest cause of fires at home and a major cause of fires.

  • Do you keep a close watch as you cook, instead of talking on the phone or watching TV?
  • Do you hang pot holders or spice racks away from the stove? Hanging them over means you have to reach across the cooking surface to get them. It also means they could catch fire from cooking heat.
  • Do you protect yourself by wearing short sleeves when you work in the kitchen? Sleeves that are long can catch fire or snag on handles of cookware.
  • Do you keep grillers, ovens and ventilation ducts and hoods free of grease?

Grease Fires:

Don't throw water on a grease fire, water splatters the grease and the flames. Keep a pot lid near the stove to smother the flames.

This is what you do if grease catches fire.

In the pan on the stove:

  • Slide a lid over the pan to shut off the air.
  • Turn off the burner.
  • Leave the pan on the stove. Carrying the pan simply fans the fire.

In the oven:

  • Close the oven door.
  • Turn off the oven.

Electric related fires:

Defective appliances and overload circuits are major causes of home fires.

  • Do you check power cords and have them replaced if they are damaged?
  • Do you avoid running electrical cords under carpeting or hanging them from nails?
  • Do you have your wiring checked by an electrician if circuit breakers frequently trip?

Flammable liquids:

  • Do you store petrol only in safe containers?
  • Do you keep containers in a garage or shed outside your home?
  • Do you avoid storing or pouring flammable liquids near an open flame.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A FIRE IN YOUR HOME

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, a fire can break out in your home.

Here are a step by step instructions on how to handle a fire emergency:

  • Keep your bedroom doors closed at night. Doors can hold back smoke and fire. This allows you more time to escape.
  • If a alarm sounds, roll out of bed. If there is smoke in the room, get below it. Make your way to the door by crawling.
  • Use the back of your hand to feel for heat on the highest point of the door you can reach.
  • If the door feels cool, open it just a crack to check for smoke .If there is no smoke, follow your usual exit route. Test all doors before you open them on your way out, Close them behind you as you go.
  • Go directly to a pre-determined meeting place. Once you are outside, never go back in the building.
  • Use a neighbours phone to call for emergency help. Give the location of the fire. Don't hang up until the operator finished asking questions.
  • If your bedroom door is hot when you test it, use your alternative exit (window).
  • If there's a phone, call the emergency number. Tell the operator where you are in the building.
  • Block the cracks around the door with rugs or towels to keep out smoke.
  • If you clothing catches fire, don't run. Stop where you are, drop to the floor and roll to put out the flame.

Fighting small fires:

Report any fire immediately, even a small one.

  • Use the right fire extinguisher.
  • Break the seal on the fire extinguisher and remove the pin.
  • Stay 2 - 3 meters from the fire.
  • Press the lever and aim the fire extinguisher nozzle or funnel at the base of the flames.
  • Sweep the fire extinguisher from side to side. Use a steady stream, rather than short bursts.

Fire extinguishers:

Fire extinguishers are your first line of defence in case of fires.

  • Keep an fire extinguisher on each level of your home, especially in or near the kitchen.
  • Know the location of the closest fire extinguisher.
  • Find how the extinguisher works before you need it,
  • Learn which fire extinguisher to use on what kind of fire e.g. Chemical, oil, electrical or gas etc. Many fire extinguishers are rated for more than one kind of fire.
  • Inspect the extinguishers every month to make sure they are full and ready to use.

Fire safety tips:

When fire strikes, everything happens so fast to make a plan. Make your fire emergency plan NOW before you need it.

  • Have at least two exits from every room in your home.
  • Go through practice drill every six months. Practice what to do in a fire emergency.
  • Make sure everyone takes part in the drill-children, older adults and disabled people included.
  • Teach children never to go back in the house after they escape. Teach them not to hide under beds or in closets.
  • Take your children to nearby fire station to see the equipment that they use. That way they won't be frightened of fire fighters in an emergency.

Remember:

Few people are burnt to death in fires. Most people die from smoke and poisonous gases. Make sure you have an escape plan to guard you home and your family against fire. The purest air is closest to the floor.

 

REMEMBER TO PROTECT THE VERY YOUNG, AND THE FRAIL

Some people, because of their age or physical condition, need special protection from fire.

The following are some hints and tips on how to protect your family.

How to protect children:

  • Never allow young children to touch matches or lighters.
  • Teach them to tell you immediately if they find matches or a lighter.
  • Keep matches stored where children can't reach them.
  • Don't allow children to play around stoves and heaters.
  • If you have toddlers, consider putting a guard rail in front of your heater and stove top.

Smoke detectors:

Most home fire deaths happen between 10 h00 at night and 6 in the morning. Many victims die because of smoke and toxic gases, and not fire itself. Smoke detectors can wake you and give you time to escape by sounding an alarm once there is a fire in the house.

Buying detectors:

  • Ensure that smoke detectors comply with acceptable safety standards.

Placing detectors:

  • Put a smoke detector on every level of your home, including the garage/ workshop.
  • Place them near bedrooms.
  • Locate them either on the ceiling or 15 to 30 centimeters below the ceiling on the wall. Keep them away from air vents.

Testing detectors:

  • Test the detector batteries once a month.
  • Press the test button with a broom handle or a similar instrument.
  • Replace the batteries once a year.

Maintenance of detectors:

  • Vacuum the grillwork on the detector periodically to keep it dust free.
  • Test the batteries once a month.

from "WORKERS LIFE" : July 1998, vol. 4 No 3.