This may seem contradictory coming from a company which specialises in the sale of burglar bars, but we’re very concerned about the relaxed attitude many South Africans have to fire emergency procedures. Most people bar up all their windows for the sake of burglar prevention, but fail to have an exit strategy for fire or other emergencies.
- Is there at least one exit point in your home which you could use as a fire escape?
- Do you have fire extinguishers in your home?
- Do you have a fire safety plan (or any emergency plan)?
- Do you know what to do in the event of different types of fires?
Fire services – including prevention & rescue programmes – are impressively up-to-date, with ample information being available to the public, should they request it. Just visit sites like The Fire Protection Association, or this page on the South African Emergency Services Institute for info specific to fire safety, and you’re off to a good start! There are plenty more, so have a look around & see which offer you training courses, free resources, information, and more.
Back to your home. Which basic guidelines should you follow for ensuring you are as protected as possible against fire hazards?
Escape from Fire & Fire extinguishing:
Smoke inhalation is extremely dangerous & can disorient you & cause you to make poor decisions in an emergency. If you are exposed to smoke, attempt to wet a cloth or item of clothing, cover your mouth & nose with it, and get out as quickly as possible. It will not give you a lot of time (approximately 2 minutes or so), but it will help! Doing this filters some of the smoke you’re breathing in. If you can’t wet the cloth, cover your mouth & nose with it anyway.
If your door is closed, feel it for heat toward the bottom of the door with the back of your hand –
- If it is cool, open it slowly and take a look at your surroundings outside. If there is a lot of smoke, keep close to the ground and crawl to get out. If you are able to get out, try to wake the rest of the household by calling for them or fetching children from their bedrooms. Get outside as quickly as possible!
- If the door is hot, don’t open it, as this means there is too much heat outside. Find another way out.
Burglar bars can be a hazard when trying to escape a fire. But you can’t afford not to have them installed! We recommend you choose specific exit points that are easy to reach by all members of the household & out of the way of where a fire is most likely to start (i.e. the kitchen, fireplace, etc.) and have an exit strategy planned in the event of a fire. That is, you should not have to cross an area which has a high fire hazard rating in order to get to your exit point. This exit point should either have:
a) removable burglar bars in case of a fire, or
b) tools at hand to remove the burglar bars, or
c) no burglar bars on fixed window panes (i.e. you can still put bars on the panes that open), or
d) no smash-proof film on the fixed window pane which you will be using as an exit.
If you’ve chosen a window that is high up to prevent intrusion, ensure you have a ladder nearby.
Ensure that you have easy access to keys to open gates, or have a no-key option for opening the gates. Keep the keys away from the door or windows, but within easy reach of the front door in case of an emergency. For example, keep them on a hook out of reach of intruders, but close to the front door, or inside a secure key box which can’t be easily reached from the outside.
If you can afford it, have a fire-resistant door/s fitted. They’re traditionally used in large buildings & for industrial applications, but some have been designed to suit home use. These doors are aimed at limiting the spread of smoke & will withstand a fire for longer than standard doors. They will, however, succumb to burning after a significant period. They are also only as powerful as the walls which they are installed into.
Emergency contact numbers:
Ensure that each room in your home has a list of emergency contact numbers – from general emergency services to specific ones like fire & rescue services. Go to this page for handy contact number information (and please check that they work before writing them down).
Ensure that you have a fire extinguisher handy in at least one high-risk room in your home. Therefore, kitchen & garages are good spots to consider. If you have 2 floors in your home, keep at least one extinguisher per floor. Get a general purpose extinguisher (type ABC), as this can be used on a variety of fire types. Remember: never use water on an electrical or oil-based fire! Always aim at the BASE of the fire. And also: check your extinguishers periodically to ensure they’re still working.
These are so important! And relatively inexpensive. Smoke alarms can be purchased D.I.Y. from a variety of retailers like Makro or Game, and will provide early detection of fires in your home. Please also ensure that you regularly check the batteries (why not set an annual date each year when you and your family check that all your household security is in tip-top shape? Try to make it fun? True, it doesn’t sound fun, but it’s so important that you should make time for it).
It’s always best (for health as well as for safety reasons) not to smoke in the home. Please remind all guests (particularly baby-sitters and other non-supervised guests) to strictly adhere to the ‘no-smoking’ rule. Forgotten cigarettes kept burning are a big fire hazard.
Don’t overload these! Ensure you turn switches off at the walls (instead of just turning the item plugged in off) each time you leave the home or go to bed & any time when not in use. This will also save you electricity! Perhaps, if you forget, keep a laminated reminder near the doors to remind you to turn lights & switches off as you leave.
Never leave your cooking unattended. Burning oil can be really dangerous. If using gas cooking equipment, keep reminders around to check that you turned the gas off as this can be explosive.
This should go without saying, but keep all dangerous material (matches, etc.) out of reach of children & preferably locked away. Get covers for your electrical outlets to prevent shocking, and child-proof doors & windows.
All heating equipment should be kept at least 1m away from flammable items. And don’t leave heaters on while sleeping.
Yeah, this is obvious, but don’t leave fires going overnight. Also, check that you clean your fireplace regularly & that there is nothing flammable nearby. Keep kids far away from fireplaces (including the sharp & hot tools used to maintain fires).
Turn off before getting into bed. Turn off at the wall, not just the blanket switch.
Call the fire service even in the case of smaller fires, just to check that everything is OK. According to the South African Emergency Services Institute website, there is no charge for call-outs. Also visit the SAESI for other useful safety tips!
Stay safe! From the Thorne Team