Fire is devastating in cost and consequences. Whereas most businesses have a regulated environment where fire alarms and equipment is mandated, most homes are extremely hazardous places where open flame is common and combustible items are everywhere.
Staying safe at home is possible with common sense and some planning.
The No. 1 cause of fire in the household is from cooking.
- NEVER leave a cooking fire unattended, especially when frying. Never overheat cooking oil, or it will spontaneously ignite and create a huge flame.
- ALWAYS have a fire blanket mounted on a wall in the kitchen. Also have a small fire extinguisher, powder type, preferably 2kg. Familiarise yourself on how to use the extinguisher. Ask your security provider if they can train you on home fire safety.
- NEVER use a water type extinguisher on a fat fire. You will spread the fire and increase its intensity as the burning oil floats on the water.
- FIT an automatic alarm system to your house. One zone can be used for fire detection and can keep your house safe even when you are away or asleep. Always fit a smoke detector in the kitchen and in sleeping rooms, as a minimum precaution. It is preferable to fit network smoke detectors so your alarm system is activated if a fire occurs.
- ALWAYS disconnect the gas cylinder after cooking. Make sure the gas hoses are secured with tight hose clips to prevent leaks.
- DO NOT keep kerosene or petrol in the house. If you do store these fuels make sure they are stored in a sealed metal container, made for the purpose, NOT a plastic jerrican!
The No. 2 cause of fire in the household is electrical.
- CHECK your electrical installation is up to standard. There should be a yearly inspection carried out by a certified electrical technician and place a certificate in the fuse box.
- ENSURE that fuses replaced are correctly rated. If circuit breakers are fitted, and they trip, investigate the problem and do not be tempted to fit a larger breaker without professional advice.
- AVOID the use of adaptors and certainly ensure the adaptors you do use are KEBS certified. Do not overload extension cables, or adaptors with devices like fan heaters.
- DO NOT sleep with fan heaters left on. They could overheat and catch fire. Be very careful not to place such devices on carpets. Some carpets burn and give off highly toxic gases which can kill you.
- DO NOT leave immersion heaters on for long periods. Make sure immersion heaters are OFF if you have a water supply cut because the heater can overheat and catch fire. The insulation on these tanks produce a cyanide type gas, which is fatal.
- MAKE SURE THAT any water-related electrical device, such as a pool pump or instant hot shower, is protected by an RCCD (residual current circuit device) which is a special circuit breaker that protects the user from water electrocution. This is very important and often overlooked in Kenya.
In the event of a fire.
- IMMEDIATELY EVACUATE the house. Have a plan of action and practise this plan. Make sure each member of the family knows what to do. Just like at work, have an assembly point, maybe at a neighbour’s house.
- MAKE SURE THAT if you have small children, each child is allocated to an adult to look after them or carry them.
- ONLY if it is safe, fight the fire with the fire blanket and extinguishers. Make sure you have a way to escape and so you do not get trapped.
- IF TRAPPED, close the door and seal it with wet towels to block the smoke. Lie on the floor to find smoke-free air and cover your head with a wet towel to filter the air for breathing.
- MAKE SURE that your burglar bars have a fire escape hatch. If you are on a higher floor, buy and fit an escape ladder that can be deployed from the window.
- COMMUNICATE: Press your alarm panic button to summon assistance from your security provider. Call 999 for the Fire Brigade.
- EVACUATE: Never put your life at risk. GET OUT IMMEDIATELY!
Written by Jeremy Van Tongeren, deputy chairman at SGA, a leading security services provider
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