Fire Safety Equipment

'Excuses kill. Get a smoke alarm' is the new campaign to encourage householders to fit and maintain smoke alarms. Large DIY stores and web sites are now working with the government to make sure that everyone knows how simple it is to buy and install these potentially life-saving devices.

Every year over 270 people die as a result of not having a smoke alarm. The more startling statistic is that these deaths could have easily been prevented. If you've put off installing a smoke alarm until now, you've probably had a good excuse. You may not think you are at particular risk, or maybe you think you'll have enough time to escape if there ever is a fire. It's time to face facts.

In 1999, fire brigades attended 72,100 house fires in the UK, involving an estimated 466 deaths and 14,600 injuries. You are twice as likely to die in a fire without a working smoke alarm. Every home should have at least one smoke alarm that works. Don't make excuses, buy a smoke alarm online today.

Smoke Alarms

Fumes produced by a smouldering fire can kill, without the occupants ever waking from sleep. This is where smoke alarms offer vital protection, giving early warning of trouble. They are very reasonably priced, but remember to check that your alarm carries the British Standard kitemark.

The more alarms you have around your home the safer you will be. If you live on one level, fit the smoke alarm in the hallway between the living and sleeping areas. This will allow you to hear it throughout your home, particularly when you're asleep.

If your house has more than one storey, fit one alarm at the bottom of the staircase and further alarms on each stair landing.

Ionisation Alarms

This type of smoke alarm incorporates a small amount of radioactive material that detects any invisible smoke particles that are floating in the air. They respond very quickly to flames, and are not ideal placed near a kitchen.

Most of the cheaper alarms are battery powered, so it's important to check the batteries in the alarm regularly. If you would prefer not to have to check the batteries on a regular basis, opt for an alarm with a sealed-in, non-removable 10-year lithium battery (Dicon).

The 10 Commandments of Fire Safety

  1. Teach your family all the dangers of fire, and thoroughly practice your fire-escape plan
  2. Fit smoke alarms. Never permanently remove a battery from a smoke alarm, and always replace a dead battery immediately
  3. Unless a fire is very small and can be tackled with a domestic fire extinguisher, do not tackle it yourself. However, you can contain a chip-pan fire with a damp cloth or fire blanket - having first turned off the heat source!
  4. Unplug all electrical appliances before going to bed. And keep them correctly maintained. No electrical flexes under carpets!
  5. Never leave a chip pan unattended!
  6. Ensure you have a smoke alarm on every level of your home, and test them once a week to make sure they're working correctly
  7. Keep matches, lighters, candles and similar items out of sight and out of the reach of children
  8. Do not connect electric blankets to multi-adaptors. This will avoid the possibility of them being switched on accidentally. Always abide by manufacturers instructions
  9. Never leave clothes or materials near or draped over a heater
  10. In the event of a fire, get everyone out, shut all doors and call the fire brigade

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers should comply with either BS 5423 or the new European Standard BS EN3. To meet this European Standard, extinguishers have all-red bodies with a band of colour to indicate the extinguisher contents. You should make yourself aware of the different colours used for the different types of fire:

Water Based (Red body)

Ideal for tackling freely burning materials such as paper, cloth and wood. Some contain water plus a special anti-fire additive that prevents materials burning. These are not suitable for flammable liquids or fires involving electrical appliances.

Foam (Red body with Yellow band)

Multi-purpose extinguishers are suitable for most fires involving flammable liquids.

Powder (Red body with Blue band)

Used for flammable liquids and electrical apparatus and most freely burning materials. But remember, the powder has no cooling ability, so very hot metals may re-ignite the fire.

Carbon Dioxide (Red body with Black band)

Suitable for fires involving flammable liquids or electrical equipment like computers, photocopiers or generators. Not to be used in confined spaces where fumes could be inhaled.

Using an extinguisher safely

Before starting to fight even the smallest fire, ensure that everyone has been evacuated and the alarm has been raised. Take up a position where access to the fire is unrestricted, but where a quick and safe retreat is possible. Crouching will help you keep clear of smoke, avoid heat and allow a closer approach to the fire. Always ensure that a fire is completely extinguished and not liable to reignite or continue smouldering.

Do not continue to fight a fire if:

  • It's dangerous to do so
  • Your escape route may be cut off by fire or smoke
  • The fire continues to grow despite your effort
  • There are gas cylinders threatened by fire

If you are withdrawing from the scene, close windows and doors behind you whenever possible.

Do not use an extinguisher to put out burning gas. Turn off the gas supply, if it is safe to do so, and leave the fire to be tackled by the Fire Brigade.

Fire Blankets

A fire blanket offers the simple, and safest way to kill a cooking-oil fire. Turn off the heat source, then, holding the blanket so that your hands are hidden behind it, drape the blanket over the pan. Flames will be smothered immediately.

Never pick up a blazing pan and run outside with it. Flames blowing back can result in the pan being dropped and you may suffer burns.

Most blankets are now made of woven glass, some specially coated to ensure oils and fats can't penetrate through. A blanket may also be used to wrap a person whose clothes are on fire.

The Kidde fire blanket- with quick-pull action and strong wall-mountable PVC holder, it is ideal for the kitchen and as a wraparound for clothing or hair on fire. Fats and oils cannot soak through.

The London Fire, Emergency and Planning Authority also has a wide range of leaflets available on all aspects of fire protection, ranging from Guy Fawkes night to safe barbecues. For more information call 020 7587 4500 or send an SAE to Unit 5&6, City Forum, City Road, London ECIV 2FB.

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