If you’re anything like me then you probably don’t spend much if any time planning how you would react to a fire at home. Yes, I have three smoke detectors (or is it two?), but do I test them regularly or do I simply assume they’ll work when required and get annoyed when they start making that intermittent bleep, indicating low battery life? Moving swiftly on.
Domestic fires kill people. Smoke inhalation is overwhelmingly the most common cause of death and it kills quickly.
Last week one of our clients was extremely lucky indeed. As a result of CRPS in his left leg and foot he is very immobile. Nevertheless, he sleeps upstairs although, like most CRPS sufferers, as a result of his pain he has difficulty getting off to sleep. At 2.00 am he had taken some more medication and by around 4.00 am, in his words, “at last I was out for the count.”
However, he and his wife were then awoken by their young daughter telling them that their dog was barking downstairs. They could immediately smell smoke and upon investigation, his wife discovered a fire in their small, downstairs utility room. Fortunately, they were able to evacuate and the Fire Service were soon on the scene. It seems that, of all things, a faulty washing machine was to blame.
In our client’s words, “after my wife grabbed the kids, I half bum shuffled, half fell down the stairs.” However, a few minutes later and there could have been a tragic outcome.
In the event of a fire, our client’s experience highlights the vulnerability of people with mobility issues.
So what precautions can be taken?
A Home Fire Safety Visit
Whether or not you suffer a disability, your local Fire and Rescue Service will almost certainly offer a free Home Fire Safety Visit. During the visit the fire officer will provide practical advice on how to reduce the risk of a fire starting in the first place. They will also provide advice specific to your circumstances in relation to:
- Escape routes;
- Cooking safety;
- Electrical safety;
- A night time routine;
- What to do if there is a fire.
It’s worth noting that many local Fire and Rescue Services will arrange the free fitting of smoke alarms.
In recent years there have been some mergers between services, but if you know the identity of your local Fire and Rescue Service, you can quickly find details of how to arrange a Home Fire Safety Visit on their website. If you are unsure who your local Fire and Rescue Service are, clicking on this link may assist.
In any event, it is recommended that you register your disability with your local Fire and Rescue Service. This will mean that in the event of an emergency, the fire crew will be made aware of your circumstances.
Varieties of smoke alarm that are supplied and fitted free of charge will satisfy all of the relevant safety standards and will certainly ‘do the job’. However, if you can afford to look around, there seem to be an infinite variety to choose from. Whilst a fire officer will be able to advise you on the various options, there are a few more general considerations:
- Mains powered or battery? Mains powered smoke alarms must be installed by an electrician, but of course they overcome the low battery/battery replacement issue. Building regulations now require the installation of mains powered alarms in all new build or new conversion properties.
- Radio linked fire alarms – if one alarm is triggered, it also triggers the others, possibly alerting you faster and gaining you valuable time. Building regulations require that the mains powered alarms in new build or new conversion properties are the radio linked variety.
- Smoke alarm or heat detector? Actually, both are advisable. Heat detectors are likely to warn you of a fire less quickly than a smoke alarm, but they are fitted in kitchens in preference to smoke alarms for fairly obvious reasons. The installation of mains powered heat detectors in kitchens is also now a building regulations requirement for all new build and new conversion properties.
- Remote control – remote control alarms are useful for testing purposes, particularly if you have mobility problems.
- It is also worth giving consideration to the fitting of a combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detector.
Again, one issue that a fire officer will discuss with you is the importance of having an escape plan. This is particularly important if, like our client, you sleep upstairs or have a sensory disability (sight or hearing). Whatever your plan, there are some very basic precautions that everybody should take, whether or not you suffer a disability.
- Always keep door keys in the same place, close to the door and ensure that everybody (including children) know where they are kept.
- Always ensure that keys to window locks are always kept in each room, particularly rooms upstairs.
- Keep internal doors closed, particularly at night. This will help to slow the spread of a fire and may therefore help to keep an evacuation route open for longer.
- Keep a phone on charge in the bedroom so that it’s immediately available to call the emergency services. However, if at all possible, always evacuate the house BEFORE calling the emergency services.
- It’s a difficult subject to broach with children without causing them undue worry but, if possible, it’s worth familiarising older children with what will happen in case of an emergency.
Further useful information
Further information on home fire safety can be found via this link.