Many people think house fires are rare, however, house fires still happen. In South Africa, a Medical Research Council report estimates that each year 3.2 per cent (1 600 000) of the country’s population will suffer from burn injuries, with the vast majority being from poorer communities. This means that many people still aren’t fully prepared for preventing fires. Fires in the home can start within a few seconds. Forgetting the stove is on, a faulty electrical switch, as well as other seemingly minor issues, can easily set a home on fire. Here are some tips in order to prevent that from happening.
1. Check heating sources regularly
Make sure that these items (as well as other appliances) are checked on a regular basis. Proper maintenance can include an annual inspection, keeping heaters around the home free of lint or dust buildup and making sure nothing is close to the pilot light (if you are using geysers that use this method).
2. Test your smoke detectors
These days, buying smoke detectors are becoming easier as online shopping becomes more popular. However, it’s still very important that if you have, to make sure it still works. Most sites say that a monthly check is recommended. Press and hold the test button on the smoke detector. It can take a few seconds to begin, but a loud, ear-piercing siren should emanate from the smoke detector while the button is pressed. If the sound is weak or nonexistent, replace your batteries.
3. Keep your stove and oven clear
Most times, fires start in the kitchen. This is mainly due to heat sources such as the oven and stove. The most obvious warnings are to keep these and other electrical appliances away from anything flammable. Curtains can easily hang near a heat source, but can also blow something flammable onto a stove. Keeping your kitchen clean and free of random flammable items is one of the best ways of preventing fires in the home.
4. Don’t multitask when cooking
We all think we can do it, and it’s fine if its at work. But, never leave the kitchen to do something else. It’s very easy to get caught up another task if you’re not in the room. This is when cooking meals on the stove can easily burn and catch fire. If you do need to leave the kitchen, turn off the stove or whatever else you may be busy with.
5. Keep electrical cords looking healthy
Make sure to check all your cords and plug points in your home for any faults, burns or kinks. Knotted wires can easily cause a shortage, the same goes for frayed wires.
If you see any kind of damage, replace those cords immediately.
Cords also create heat, so never cover them under rugs or furniture. Also, make sure to unplug any cords when they are not in use.
6. Know your shutoffs
This doesn’t just include your mains. If you use gas, make sure you know how to turn off your gas lines. Make sure that all shutoff areas are easy to get to and are in proper working order.
7. Store flammable products in a safe place
Did you know that cosmetic products such as shaving cream or hair spray are flammable? This doesn’t just mean keep them away from open flames, but from direct sunlight too. Make sure that flammable items such as these are kept in safe, dark cupboards away from small children.
8. Candles are romantic – but be careful
Never leave candles unattended, even if they are tiny tea lights. As mentioned with the kitchen tip above, keep them away from anything flammable. This includes curtains and furniture. When you do have candles, make sure they are stored in safe containers that can’t be tipped easily. Also, if you are going to bed, make sure all candles have been extinguished.
9. Smoking kills – in more ways than one
Even though most people are using vapes instead of regular cigarettes, both are still dangerous. Don’t smoke or vape if you’re feeling sleepy, especially if the cigarette is still lit. If you smoke inside, never leave the used butts on the ground and use an ashtray whenever possible. If you vape, make sure you know how to use it properly.
10. Know where the fire extinguisher is kept
It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or fancy, as just keeping one fire extinguisher is better than nothing. The most important tip here is making sure it is still in working order. Manufacturers say most extinguishers should work for 5 to 15 years, but easiest way to check is to look at the needle.
“If the needle is in the green area, it’s functional.”Dennis L. Rubin, Atlanta fire chief
Also, make sure everyone in your home knows the fire extinguisher(s) is kept. Keep them away from potential fire sources, as if it’s too close, you might not be able to get to it if the fire is too intense.
11. Close bedroom doors
In South Africa, a closed bedroom door is generally used for safety reasons. However, it’s also good to keep them closed to prevent a fire from spreading. Open doors mean more oxygen for a fire to spread, and every second counts if there is a serious fire.
12. Keep matches away from children
Children have been mentioned briefly in this post, but make sure they understand fire and fire safety. Matches in a child’s hands can easily go from bad to worse.
Even though injury due to burns is largely preventable, Africa carries an extraordinary burden of fire-related injuries. It is estimated that over a million patients are burned annually on the African continent, with 18 per cent of hospital admissions and six to ten per cent of mortality being burn-related.Patrick Kulati, Chief Executive Officer, Household Energy Safety Association of South Africa (HESASA)
Matches should always be kept in a safe cupboard away from anything flammable.
13. Be careful of gas leaks
As gas is becoming more popular in South Africa, is important to know what a gas leak is and what to when it happens. Small gas leaks may not have a smell or other physical signs. However, if there is a gas leak in the home, a person may notice:
- the smell of sulfur or rotten eggs
- a hissing or whistling sound near a gas line
- a damaged gas pipe
- dead houseplants
- also, gas bottles may run out quicker than usual, as gas will be escaping from gas lines or appliances into the house
There are also many different physical symptoms that you may notice, too, including feeling lightheaded, dizzy or nauseous.
What to do if you smell gas:
- Open doors and windows to allow fresh air in
- Turn off the gas at the mains or at the bottle
- Leave the property
- Call this number – 011 726 3138 – during the day and this number – 011 726 4702 – after hours
- Follow the advice given by the emergency adviser
- Wait outside for a gas engineer to arrive
- If you are feeling unwell, visit your GP or hospital immediately. Tell them you may have been exposed to a gas leak or carbon monoxide poisoning
- Smoke, light a match or use any other naked flame.
- Turn any electrical switches on or off
- Use cooking appliances such as the stove or oven
- Use any other electrical switches which could cause a spark
14. Be vigilant with electric blankets
Forgetting to turn off an electric blanket at night or during the day can have disastrous effects. Even though they keep you warm, make sure you turn it off before you go to bed and never keep one on unattended.
15. Know your emergency numbers
A fire can occur at any time. Make sure you know who to call and where you are living. This sounds silly, but often in a panic someone might forget their home address. Here are important numbers you’ll need if there’s a fire:
10177 – South Africa only
012 310 6300/6400 – Pretoria only
998/999 – Gauteng only
107 / 021 480 7700 – Cape Town only