We asked the help of the London Fire Brigade to find out about fire safety for families.
Prevention is better than cure
More than half of domestic fires start due to something to do with cooking. Hot oil, especially in deep frying, is a particularly common cause. If a pan does catch fire follow the Fire Brigade's advice:
- Don't try and move the pan because it will be very hot
- Turn off the heat if it's safe to do so - don't lean over the pan to reach the controls though
- Don't use a fire extinguisher on a pan of oil because the force of the extinguisher can spread the fire
- Never use water on chip pan fires (or similar) as this will cause a fireball, use a fire blanket to smother the flames if it is safe to do so
- Get out, stay out and call 999
Many a parent likes to grab a glass of wine and light a candle or two once the kids are in bed but they are also a key culprit with domestic fires. NEVER leave them burning unattended - this doesn't just mean extinguishing candles at night but even when you leave a room.
Only use them in proper holders and be aware of what's around the candle - keep them away from curtains, fabric, and of course well out of children's reach.
Smoke alarms are a MUST for every home
Most of us know that we should fit smoke detectors (they make a massive difference to your chances of getting out safely in a fire - you're more than twice as likely to die in a fire without one) but where they are sited is key to their effectiveness too.
They need to be in or near the centre of the room, not at a corner where smoke might curve underneath and not reach the detector as early on. They should also be at least 30cm from any lighting.
Locate them in the hallway(s) ensuring there is at least one on each floor as a minimum. If you have a large electrical appliance in other rooms, such as a bedroom, fit an alarm in there too.
It's also essential to get into the habit of checking your alarms work regularly - every week. The firefighters we received advice from had all encountered situations where families could have got out of a burning house safely if only the detectors which were installed had been checked and were actually working.
Poorly-sited smoke alarms, especially in kitchens, can cause annoying false alarms which then lead some people to remove the batteries but this leaves you without warning if a fire does break out.
If you have a smoke alarm in the kitchen that is going off when it shouldn't, replace it with a heat alarm - sold in DIY shops or online, for around £20 or under.
Before you go to bed at night...
Turn electrical products that aren't designed to be kept on, off, whenever possible. Fridges and freezers are obviously meant to be on all the time but turning off items such as the TV at the mains, rather than leaving it on standby, reduces your chances of a fire breaking out.
Unplug (or turn the switch off if the socket has one) phone chargers, toasters, irons and the like. All this will save on your electricity bill too!
Avoiding overloading plug sockets is vital - one plug per socket is best to limit the chances of overheating. If you can't manage that, bar-style extension leads are safer than those square blocks with a socket on each face.
Realistically, there will be some appliances you need to leave switched on but this is a really simply measure and, as Gary Squires, Watch Manager at a London Fire Brigade Station, puts it 'you're reducing your chances - if there are 30 electrical items plugged in in your house and you turn off 10 of them, you've cut the risk by a third'.
He adds that 'shutting internal doors wherever possible as part of your bedtime routine can buy extra time in a fire to get everyone out once a smoke alarm has gone off'. A closed door won't prevent smoke reaching the detector as there will normally be enough of a gap around its edges and alarms are sensitive to quite small amounts of smoke.
Overall the combination of shutting downstairs internal doors and working smoke alarms will make a very significant difference to your chances of a safe escape.
Have a family fire plan
Just as schools and work places have fire practices, create a family fire plan and make sure all family members (and any overnight guests/ babysitters) are aware of it.
Here are some tips from the Fire Brigade to help plan your family's escape from fire:
- The best escape route is often the normal way in and out of your home
- Think of any difficulties you may have getting out,eg, at night you may need to have a torch to light your way (it's worth each older child having one by their bed).
- Choose a second escape route, in case the first one is blocked
- Keep all exits clear of obstructions, like bicycles (and pushchairs)
- If there are children, older or disabled people or pets, plan how you will get them out.
"Make sure they know not to go looking for the fire too" says Gary.
If they do find themselves in a smoke-filled room, they should stay low and crawl along the floor to limit inhalation.
If there's a fire at night when they are in bed...
If your children hear the smoke alarm going off at night (and make sure they know what it sounds like), they should touch the handle of their bedroom door rather than opening it. If it's cool, they can leave the room and get out of the house as quickly as possible/ get to you if the route to your room is clear. If the handle is hot, it means the fire is close to the other side of the door and they are safer staying in their room.
If this happens, explain that they should put cushions, towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to block smoke if possible, and to open the window and shout for help.
In most circumstances this will be safer than them trying to climb out, but obviously if you live in a rural area and no one will hear them shouting, that might be necessary. If you are concerned about this scenario, it might be worth requesting a home safety check from your local fire brigade (see below) as then a fire officer can talk to you about the best escape plan for your individual property and circumstances.
Make sure everyone knows where door and window keys are kept
Decide where the keys to doors and windows should be kept and always keep them in that place. Make sure everyone in your household knows where they are - including babysitters and grandparents staying with you. In our drive to keep burglars out, many of us neglect to ensure that we also can get out quickly if there's a fire.
As soon as they're old enough, teach your children your address and about when to phone 999.
Of course, they also need to be taught when NOT to call 999 too though to prevent time-wasting false alarms.
Everyone's house is different and each fire situation is different but think through what you would do and more than anything else, ensure your family remembers the motto 'get out,stay out, call the fire brigade out'.
If you're particularly concerned about the risks of fire, many local fire brigades offer free home safety checks.
For further advice, see Fire Brigade information.