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Essential Fire Safety Equipment You Need In Your Home

How many of you have smoke detectors installed in your homes? Do you also own a fire extinguisher and if so is it the correct one? In this blog post I want to go into a little more detail on these products and why they are so important to have in your home.

SMOKE AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS

A smoke detector alarm detects the presence of smoke and possible fire in your home whereas a carbon monoxide (CO) detector alarm alerts you when the levels of CO in your home are dangerously high. Smoke detectors are a must for all homes. You only need a carbon monoxide detector if you use fuel-burning appliances such as gas stovetops, heaters and geysers. CO detectors are also important if your home has a fireplace.

These detectors need to be installed where you can hear them, especially while you are sleeping. It would be pretty pointless to put one in the garage if your bedroom is on the top floor. It is recommended that you have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector either inside or just outside of every bedroom. You also need to make sure there is one on each floor of your house.

Carbon monoxide detectors should also be installed near fuel-burning appliances, just outside the garage and in rooms with wood burning fireplaces. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. You cannot see or smell the gas and in the early stages CO poisoning will feel more like the flu. You can read more about carbon monoxide and how it affects the body in my previous blog post: https://www.oneaid.co.za/gas-or-wood-how-to-safely-keep-warm-this-winter/

Most of these alarms run on batteries so they need to be tested regularly, at least every month. The batteries should also be replaced once a year.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

There are at least four different types of fires that can happen in your home and water is definitely not the safest way to extinguish all of them.

Common causes of house fires:

1.     Class A

These fires involve combustible materials such as wood, textiles, straw, paper etc. These are materials that can combust, i.e. burn in air.

2.     Class B

These fires are caused by the burning of liquids or materials that liquify, such as petrol, paint, alcohol and paraffin.

3. Class F

These fires involve cooking oils and fats in the kitchen.

4.   Electrical appliances (formerly type E)

These are fires caused by electrical appliances

What fire extinguisher do you need?

There are five main types of fire extinguishers; water, foam, dry powder, CO2  and wet chemical. The different types of extinguishers are used to put out different classes of fires. There is not one extinguisher type that works on all classes of fire.

  1. Water fire extinguisher

These extinguishers are used to put out class A fires. The water has a cooling effect, which causes the fire to burn more slowly until all the flames have been extinguished. These extinguishers should not be used on or near electrical appliances.

These are not recommended for class F fires. If you had to use this extinguisher on such a fire in your kitchen, there would be an explosion of steam much larger than the one you see when rinsing a hot pan under water. This explosion would throw hot oils all over your kitchen, which could cause a new fire and most definitely result in thermal burns to your skin and eyes.

2.Foam fire extinguisher

Foam extinguishers are useful against both class A and B fires. Similar to water extinguishers, foam extinguishers have a cooling effect. These should also not be used on or near electrical appliances.

3. Dry powder fire extinguisher

These extinguishers can be used on class A, B, C and electrical fires. They work by forming a barrier on top of the fire so that the burning fuel has no more access to the oxygen it needs to burn.

These extinguishers should not be used in enclosed spaces as the powder that is dispersed can be inhaled. Therefore they are not recommended for home use.

4. CO2 fire extinguisher

CO2 extinguishers are used on class B and electrical fires because CO2 does not conduct electricity. These extinguishers work similar to the dry powder ones whereby they suffocate the fire by removing the oxygen from its surface.

5. Wet chemical extinguisher

These are the extinguishers you would use on a class F fire. They can also be used on class A fires. They work by creating a layer of cooling foam on top of the burning oil or fat and therefore also cut off the oxygen supply.

Before going out to buy a fire extinguisher you need to identify the different fire risks you have in your home, because this will determine which type of extinguishers you need and where you need to keep them. It is probably best to have an expert come and inspect your home and assess your individual needs. They can also guide you on where to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

If you do have a fire extinguisher in your home make sure you know how it works. Read the manual or have someone show you, because in an emergency you really don’t want to be figuring out how the safety pins work.

RESOURCES

https://www.cityfire.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/fire-extinguisher-types.pdf

https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/SmokeAlarmWhyWhereandWhichCPSCPub559RevisedJuly2016PostReview.pdf

Gas or Wood? How To Safely Keep Warm This Winter.

We are now well into winter and definitely feeling the chill! South African homes are not well equipped to withstand the cold and we have to resort to various heating appliances to stay warm during winter. This is why structural fires and carbon monoxide poisoning are so common during the winter months. Below, I outline some safety tips on keeping warm in the home.

WHEN USING A GAS HEATER

  1. Always make sure the gas heater and especially the cylinder is completely turned off before going to bed or leaving the house.

  2. Always keep the room well ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) build up.

  3. Do not use outdoor gas heaters indoors, as they may produce more CO.

  4. Make sure all components of the heater are well maintained. Ensure the gas bottle is safely secured with no leaks.

  5. Natural gas is odourless. In order to identify leaks more easily manufacturers add chemicals to give it that distinctive rotten eggs smell.  If you smell gas in your home turn off the gas cylinder and do not use an electric fan to try and remove the gas.

  6. When switching your gas heater on always start by first turning on a match or lighter and then opening the gas supply. When switching the heater off always turn the gas cylinder off first.

  7. Never move a gas heater whilst in use.

  8. Do not place anything on or over the heater, such as damp laundry items. This can result in a fire. Do not ever sit on a gas heater either as it could fall over.

  9. Do not use flammable liquids and/or aerosols near a gas heater. Do not use a gas heater in a room that has recently been painted.

  10. Make sure to keep all flammable items a safe one-metre away.

  11. Have smoke and CO detectors installed and test them regularly.

  12. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your home.

WHEN USING A FIREPLACE 

  1. Keep a window slightly open.  This will help prevent the room filling up with smelly smoke. It also prevents the build up of carbon monoxide (CO).

  2. Make sure the damper of your chimney is open so that the smoke can leave the house. Only close the damper once the fire is completely extinguished.

  3. Use dry wood and not wet or green wood. Wet and green wood cause more smoke.

  4. Clean out any ash from the previous fire. Thick layers of ash restrict the air supply to the fire and cause more smoke. 

  5. Use smaller pieces of wood because these create less smoke.

  6. Remember to have your chimney cleaned once a year before the winter season. Animal nests and excess soot can block the escape of smoke.

  7. Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Always make sure it is completely extinguished before going to bed and/or leaving the house.

  8. Make sure the area around the fireplace is clear of potentially flammable items such as books, curtains and furniture. Keep a safe one-metre distance.

  9. Keep fireplace tools and accessories such as firelighters, matches and lighters out of a child’s reach.

  10. Use safety screens so your children can’t get burnt by hot flying embers or by touching the hot glass of a closed fireplace.

  11. Have smoke and CO detectors installed in your house and test them regularly.

  12. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your home!

CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING

It may seem counter-productive to keep a window open when you are trying to keep your home warm, but this is extremely important if you are burning a fuel, such as gas, paraffin, coal or wood to generate heat.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless and odourless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of these carbon-containing fuels. When there is too much CO in the air your body replaces the oxygen attached to red blood cells in the blood, with carbon monoxide. This is because the affinity between haemaglobin (Hb) (in the red blood cells) and carbon monoxide is much stronger than the affinity between Hb and oxygen. This can be extremely dangerous and lead to hypoxia, irreversible brain damage and eventually death.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected you need to move the victim into fresh air, either by opening all the doors and windows or getting the person outside. This will allow some oxygen to start displacing the carbon monoxide. Definitive management is however in hospital with high flow 100% oxygen so you need to call an ambulance right away.

ELECTRIC HEATERS

Some of you may have electric heaters in your homes. These are safer than using gas and fire but still not 100% safe. Electric heaters use a lot of electricity so they can easily overload circuits and cause power failures or fires.

You should never plug in more than one electrical device into the same outlet as the heater to prevent overheating and overloading. To prevent electric shocks electric heaters should not be used in rooms where moisture builds up such as bathrooms and kitchens. There is also a fire risk if flammable items such as fabric come into contact with electric heaters that have hot elements and the electric bar heaters pose an additional burn risk.

Whatever heating methods you use this winter none of them are guaranteed safe, so remember to take the necessary precautions. It is important that you teach your children about fire safety from a young age. If your little ones do get thermal burns from poking fires and other heating elements follow the principles of first aid.

To find out more about management of thermal burns you can read my previous post: https://www.oneaid.co.za/baking-with-your-little-ones-safety-and-tips-to-taking-care-of-thermal-burns/. It is also recommended that you develop a fire escape plan and make sure your children know how to safely get out of the house in the event of a fire.

RESOURCES

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/gas-heating-health-and-safety-issues

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/Fire-Safety.aspx

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carbon-monoxide-poisoning/ https://riseandshine.childrensnational.org/how-to-protect-children-around-fireplaces/

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