The dos and don’ts of fire safetyArchive
In the wake of a spate of fires in Karachi such as in Gaddani, at Regent Plaza Hotel, at a chemical and medicine warehouse on M.A. Jinnah Road and a methanol storage in Keamari, we are all reminded that knowing the essentials of fire safety is a must.
While fires are a major concern all year round, it becomes an even bigger problem in the winter months — primarily due to the misuse of heating mechanisms. Another major cause is short-circuits, often caused due to voltage fluctuations, bad wiring or electric overload of sockets.
While industrial fires occur for different reasons, fires in the house are caused by a few factors that are easily preventable.
What causes fires in the home?
Fires in the kitchen are caused due to a number of factors such as unattended cooking, the electric overload of equipment and kitchen gadgets such as microwaves, food processers, and toasters, and combustible materials stored near flames or heat-generating equipment. Other reasons include gas leaks and people wearing loose clothing while cooking or standing near the stove.
In the rest of the house, fires can be caused by cigarettes or lighters placed on or near flammable materials, poorly-maintained electrical wires that short-circuit, the overcharging of electronic devices, the lack of surge protection equipment (such as a stabiliser), electrical heaters or candles, flammable liquids and aerosols.
Smoking in bed is another situation that leads to fire. The obvious solution: if you have the urge to have a cigarette, don’t do so while lying in bed.
How to prevent commonly occurring fires in the kitchen
Most fires are caused due to negligence and can be prevented. The most common cause in the kitchen is women’s dupattas catching fire while they are cooking. Ideally, dupattas or other such loose clothing as well as flammable synthetic materials such as polyester shouldn’t be worn when working near flames.
Another common culprit in kitchen fires is overheated oil and grease. Never leave oil on the stove unattended. A good idea is also to cover the frying pan. If using a pot to fry, don’t fill it more than a third with oil. If you see that the oil is smoking, it means it’s very hot. Turn off the stove and let the oil cool. Keep rags, paper towels and other combustible material away from the stove.
The first and foremost step in case of an oil fire is to turn off the stove and then cover the pan or vessel that is on fire with a lid. Throw baking soda in large amounts to smother any lingering flames.
If available, use a fire extinguisher. Never use water as oil floats on water and this potentially could cause the fire to spread. It is also important to not attempt to swat the fire with a cloth such as apron, towel, etc, as they could catch fire. Do not move the pot around, as it could cause spillage which could result in spreading the fire.
Electrical fires at home
The main reasons for electrical fires are the following: overloading of extension cords; leaving appliances plugged in when not in use; using substandard chargers for electronic devices; putting the wrong plugs in the wrong sockets; and faulty wiring (rodents eating into wires exposing the metal), among others.
To extinguish electrical fires, switch off the main electric supply. Use a C-category fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. However, if a fire extinguisher is not available, then smother the device on fire with a heavy coat or rug.
To prevent electrical fires, have all electrical connections regularly checked, especially if there have been fluctuations or overheating. Eliminate rodents; if they are found in confines where there was cabling (false ceilings, electrical cabinets, etc) then recheck the wiring.
Always use quality equipment and avoid cheap copies. Unplug unused gadgets, even your Wi-Fi device, when not in use.
What to do in the event a person’s clothing catches fire?
If a person’s clothing catches fire the drill is to Stop, Drop and Roll:
STOP — do not run, if someone is running stop them.
DROP — get on the floor, cover the eyes with hands.
ROLL — back and forth, until the fire is extinguished (avoid carpeted flooring but if it’s the only option then do it).
If the person can’t Drop and Roll for any reason (mobility issues) then wrap them with a thick blanket or coat to smother the flames.
Have a plan
Purchase a fire extinguisher, place it in an accessible part of the home and practise using one. Before buying one, please note that there are different kinds of fire extinguishers.
For household usage, the Dry Chemical Powder (DCP) extinguisher is the most suitable as it can be used on a multitude of types of fires (electrical, wood, or paper).
Make sure you are acquainted with the locations of all the mains so that you know where to go to shut down the electric, gas, or water supplies (as needed) in case of an emergency.
Make a fire escape plan and make everyone in your household practice. Remember if you have people with special needs (children, elderly, sick, injured), your plan needs to incorporate their needs.
Chalk out details such as who will look after the children when the fire occurs, who will supervise them during the evacuation and who will keep them while you fight the fire. Special consideration also needs to be given to the elderly — they may need assistance to walk or need visual aids.
Evacuation must be a part of your plan — you should know beforehand where to go, and where your exits are. When evacuating, inform someone that you are doing so. You may also need to leave if it looks like the exits will be compromised; this means that if you reside in a multi-tenant facility, for instance, and the fire is in someone else’s place you may need to leave.
The writer is a safety advisor and tweets @norbalm. You can also reach him via email on [email protected] or his website www.norbalm.com
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2016