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Safety Tips: What To Do in the Event of a Fire

Author: Megan Ellis
Date: 2017-06-21
The Western Cape fires have reminded the public how devastating a blaze can be. So what should you do if a fire breaks out in your home?

Concerns about what to do in a blaze are particularly prevalent following the tragic fires in the Western Cape. While you might be familiar with the fire drills at work or university, it can be an entirely different situation if the fire is at your home. So what should you do if a fire breaks out in your home? We have some tips and safety advice...  

What To Do When You Notice A Fire

The Red Cross emphasises that in the event of the fire, one should remember to get out, stay out and call.

  1. Alert everyone to the fire by shouting or setting off a fire alarm;
  2. Assist anyone who might not be able to help themselves including the elderly, children and pets;
  3. Release any pets that might be locked or chained up;
  4. Check any rooms you can get to for possible exists and to ensure no-one is left behind.

Keep in mind that you will need to leave as quickly as possible. Fire spreads quicker than you expect and it is also easy to get overwhelmed by smoke. Once you are out of the house, you should stay out and not go back indoors. You should then call emergency services to get a response unit out to your property as soon as possible. Our national emergency number 10111 can be used for this. 

The Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa (FPASA) emphasises on their website that you should never re-enter the house for personal belongings. In fact, all fire safety sites tell people to leave personal belongings behind. Trying to save them could cost you precious time.

What To Do If The Fire Has Progressed

Sometimes we only notice that a fire has broken out when smoke begins to fill the room. There are also times that fires spread very quickly. If you are in a situation where the fire has gained significant traction, FPASA gives the following advice:

  • Crawl low to the ground to avoid smoke
  • Don't open doors that feel hot - this means there are flames on the other side. Touch door handles gently first so you don't unsuspectingly burn yourself.
  • If your clothes catch fire: stop, drop and roll

To prevent smoke inhalation, you can cover your mouth and nose with a wet cloth or shirt. Covering your mouth and nose only buys you a few minutes, so it's not worth staying behind looking for a cloth while the blaze worsens.

What If I'm Stuck?

If you are stuck in a room, such as one located on a higher storey, you will need to alert the emergency services and give them time to get to you. Close the doors of the room you're in - as closed doors do slow down the spread of flames between rooms. You should also try cover vents and the crack under the door to keep smoke from entering the room. Open a window to call out for help.

You can also hang a sheet out the window to signal to emergency responders which room you're in. After this, you should close the window again so that there isn't a source of oxygen which draws the fire. Only if it is safe to do so, should you climb out the window to a ledge, hang down and drop to the ground.

If you can, throw a mattress out the window to add some extra landing padding. ER24 advises people to have spare ladders in their home if they live in a multi-storey house. This can help you escape should a fire break out.  

Reducing The Risk Of A Fire

Since blazes can have devastating consequences, you should take as many steps as you can to reduce the risk of one breaking out.Some of these precautions are in the form of home improvements, such as installing smoke detectors. You can also get a small fire extinguisher for your home. You should also make sure that your matches and fire-lighting instruments are out of reach of children.Other advice given by FPASA includes not overloading electrical sockets by plugging in too many devices into one outlet. You should also not run electrical cords under your carpets.

Furthermore, always keep an eye on your irons, heaters and other heating equipment like hairdryers and curling/straightening irons. Rather don’t leave them on or plugged in while unattended, even if you are planning on just leaving the room for a few minutes. You run the risk of getting distracted and leaving these devices on for too long. You should also take the time to figure out how you would escape a room should a fire break out.

Develop and practice an escape plan - plan two ways out of every bedroom, FPASA says.

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