Protect against fire
We look at fire safety in the home - from preventing fires to ensuring that you have the right firefighting equipment in case of an emergency.
By Gina Hartoog
Causes of fire in the home
* Faulty electrical wiring.
* Candles left unattended.
* Kitchen fires.
* Overloaded plug sockets.
* Heaters in winter (left unattended or used irresponsibly).
* Fireplace left unattended or without a screen guard.
* Faulty electrical equipment (irons, toasters, electrical blankets).
* Children playing with matches or a lighter.
* Careless smoking (especially in bed).
* Improper storage of flammable liquids.
* Braai fire that gets out of control.
Fire classes and types of extinguishers
Fires are placed in different classes so the correct fire extinguisher can be selected to fight the fire.
Class A: Wood, paper, fabric, rubbish, plastics, cardboard and solid combustible materials that are not metals.
Class B: Flammable liquids like fuel, kerosene, grease, paint or any non-metal in a liquid state.
Class C: Flammable gases like methane and propane.
Class D: Flammable metals.
Class E: Electrical equipment.
Class F: Cooking fats and hot oils (catering equipment).
Types of fire extinguishers
Class B, C and E fires.
*Dry chemical powder (DCP)
Class A, B and C fires (suitable for household use).
Class A fires.
Source: Lance Tempest of Tempest Fire
Surviving a house fire
* In addition to having some firefighting equipment in your home, you should have a fire escape plan in place. Every member of your household should have a clear idea what to do if your smoke detector or fire alarm goes off.
This is extremely important in South Africa where, due to security reasons, most windows have fixed burglar guards. Your family needs to know what to do, how to get out of the house and where to meet.
* Have two plans in place. This is essential as one route may be blocked by fire in that section of the house. If you have a young family, have a practise run. It won’t frighten the kids – they have fire drills at school too.
* Always display your local fire station and emergency telephone numbers where everyone in your family can find it.
* In the event of fire, make sure everyone is awake. Get everyone out of the house as fast as possible.
* If a door handle is hot to the touch, do not open it.
* Teach older children and teenagers to crawl low on the ground if there is thick smoke. Assist babies, toddlers and younger children.
* Have a meeting area outdoors, well away from the house.
* Leave personal belongings behind!
* If your clothing catches fire, stop, drop and roll (outside).
* While it is essential to try and get the fire department to your property as quickly as possible, only make the call once you are out of the burning house.
Consider the benefits of a smoke alarm and fire detection system – while you are getting your family out of the house, the security company would already know about the fire and help would be on the way.
In a strange twist of fate, the day before I planned to write this article, I nearly burned down my own kitchen! I stupidly took pot of burned vegetables off the stove and put it down on a kitchen dishtowel. I was so focused on my burned dinner and how I was going to fix it that I didn’t give fire safety a thought. The dishtowel caught alight and, yes, I had a fire on my hands.
‘Not thinking’ is probably a major cause of house fires. We are so busy with our daily tasks that we don’t consider how easily a fire can start or really know how to handle one when we are faced with a raging inferno. Everybody needs to take the threat of fire seriously. It can happen in your home!
Fire safety in winter
In under half a minute, a seemingly small fire can become major fire that quickly escalates out of control. While lives and property are in danger from the fire itself, the heat, smoke and gases that are emitted from the fire are just as dangerous.
With the winter temperatures dropping and with electricity costs rising, many South Africans are looking for alternative ways to heat their homes this winter. The use of gas stoves and gas heaters are increasing and wood and charcoal are popular choices.
According to Chubb Fire and Security South Africa, all these methods of heating may be acceptable but they are a major contributing factor in residential fires.
“We are all guilty of bringing out the extra heater, dusting it down and turning it on without rechecking that it is fully safe, and it is all too easy for people to become complacent and not take adequate precautions to prevent a fire in the home, the consequences of which can be devastating,” says Bridget Aves, regional managing director of Chubb Fire and Security in KwaZulu-Natal.
Prevent fire in your home
The first step in fire safety is to prevent a fire from starting in your home. While it may seem like common sense, there are many things you may overlook in your home that could lead to a fire. Chubb has the following guidelines for fire prevention:
* Never overload electric circuits or extension cords and replace faulty and frayed cables immediately.
* Ensure electric blankets and heaters are not left on overnight or unsupervised.
* Children under the age of five are naturally curious about fire - take the mystery out of fire by teaching them that it is a tool and not a toy.
* Ensure night lights and lamps are not touching bedspreads, curtains or other fabrics.
* Turn off portable heaters, as well as gas and electric fires before going to bed.
* If you have an open fire, you should use a fire screen every time you make a fire.
* Keep heaters away from furniture and curtains.
* If you have gas, oil or coal-burning appliances, be aware of carbon monoxide. Ensure your home is properly ventilated and equipment is regularly serviced and maintained.
Fire detection and safety equipment
The second step in fire protection in your home is to ensure that you have fire safety equipment to alert you to a fire and/or alert your security company (if your system is linked) as well as some firefighting equipment to put out a small fire before it gets out of control.
Bridget Aves says that the loss of life and property resulting from fires, whether caused by arson, heating methods or badly installed equipment, can be prevented by installing a fire alarm system, smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.
“While the main focus of fire protection strategies is to prevent fire, early automatic fire detection is essential to help you contain a fire in the event of one accidentally breaking out,” says Bridget.
“Servicing and maintaining these systems is a legal and insurance requirement.”
Fire equipment is essential in the home and saves lives, but if you don’t know how to use the equipment or if it is faulty, it is useless.
Smoke detectors and alarms
These alert you to a fire in your home. They sound an alarm that is loud enough to wake you from sleep. Some systems are connected to your alarm system and will send a signal to your security company alerting them to the fire.
Small, wireless smoke detectors are relatively inexpensive and should be placed on each level of your home, close to bedroom doors and in any outbuildings. Always read the instructions carefully and know how your product works.
Some battery-operated products will emit a beeping sound when the batteries need replacing. Devices should also be tested regularly. Everyone in your home should know the sound the fire or smoke alarm makes. Products older than 10 years should be replaced.
You can add a smoke detector assessory to the Yale 6000 Series Wire Free Alarm System (DIY-friendly). If a fire is detected, a signal is sent to the control panel, which emits a different siren to the alarm/panic tone. A signal is also sent to the armed response company, alerting them that a fire has been detected.
The Yale Biometric Digital Door Lock uses three methods of unlocking - fingerprints, a pin code and a mechanical key. The door lock also has an integrated fire safety feature.
Should your home catch alight, the digital door lock will unlock and sound an alarm if the internal temperature reaches 60°C. Yale products are available from select retail outlets, Yale Security Point stores, Yale Express stores or online. For information, log on to .
Every home should have at a least one fire extinguisher. Two extinguishers are a better safety option. Keep one in the house and one in the garage or one on each floor of a multistorey home.
Fire extinguishers should be kept in an easy-to-reach place, ideally near the kitchen. Everyone in your home should know where they are stored.
Fire extinguishers contain different firefighting agents – carbon dioxide, water and dry chemical powder, and each agent is used to put out a different type of fire (see block). D, E and F class fires are rarely seen in a domestic environment.
A 4,5kg DCP extinguisher is the best for home use. It is affordable and relatively lightweight, so it is easy to handle by most adult family members.
Also consider a small 1kg fire extinguisher for your car. Fire extinguishers should be checked regularly. Buy a quality product with the SABS mark (SANS 1910).
To use a fire extinguisher, pull the pin. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Squeeze the top handle or lever and sweep from side to side.