Spring into action

It is officially spring, traditionally we would give our homes a spring clean and wash the windows of a winter of accumulated soot and dust from the winter fires. Most of us don’t need to do this so  it’s great time to give your home safety a spring clean instead.

Smoke Alarms

You cannot underestimate the importance of a working smoke alarm. They won’t prevent a fire but they can buy you valuable time to get out of the house.

You should check the batteries are working by testing your alarms each week. As a reminder many fire services will ask you to #TestItTuesday. So, follow your local service on twitter or facebook  for your weekly reminder and plenty of other useful advice.

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Give your smoke alarms a spring clean to remove any dust or debris, this will keep the sensor clear. Try and keep a spare smoke alarm battery in the house in case it needs replacing and don’t remove batteries from smoke alarms. In 2014-15 in 25% of fire incidents where a smoke alarm failed to respond it was because the battery was missing or flat. Some of these incidents resulted in death or serious injury.

Double check your alarms are correctly placed. They should be fixed to the ceiling – ideally in the centre of the room. Smoke will initially rise up to the ceiling before crawling down the walls and into corners of the room. So by fixing your alarm near the centre of the ceiling you are making sure there is no delay in the smoke activating the alarm. Don’t use glue or stickers to hold them in place (yes people have done that), they should be screwed in place.

Make sure you have the right alarm in the right place. People often get annoyed with their alarms activating when they are cooking or taking a shower and end up removing batteries. If this is the case your alarm may be too close to the kitchen or bathroom – move it.

The best type of alarm for a kitchen is a heat alarm. They are not sensitive to smoke and activate when there is a rapid increase in temperature or very high temperature. This also makes them useful for garages or workshops.

Households should make sure they have plenty of smoke alarms. The absolute minimum should be one on each level of the home. Ideally you would have one is each room. This is especially important as homes now have many electrical items in many rooms. It’s not unusual to have several televisions a couple of computers and several phones charging in most households. If your children have gadgets in their room install a smoke alarm. It costs less than a charger lead.

If you rent a property your landlord must install smoke alarms but it’s up to you to make sure they are regularly tested.

Plan your escape

If an alarm does go off,  knowing what to do makes a huge difference. We would be up in arms if schools didn’t train our children on how to respond and evacuate a school safely, yet how many people have thought about what they would do in their own homes.

Plan-an-Escape-Route

Take a look around your home. Make sure you can easily move around. Don’t keep items on the stairs, they can cause an accident at the best of times. Make sure any exits are clear. Even if it’s an exit your household tends not to use on a daily basis in an emergency it might be the only escape route.

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Clear any rubbish from garages and sheds as these can help fuel fires.

Try and ensure keys to windows and doors can be reached easily so you can unlock doors or windows to aid escape. Have a practice of your plan with the whole family.

Recent and ongoing research from Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service indicates that not all children may wake to the sound of a smoke alarm. If you have children or vulnerable people in your home you must take account of this. This means you must plan to physically alert them and assist them to escape.

If you need advice or help then take a look at your local fire and rescue services website. They may be able to provide and install smoke alarms or in some cases arrange a home safety check for you.

Working together to make all safe and well

A new video highlighting how firefighting has changed across the decades has now been launched, with an emphasis on ‘safe and well’ visits.

The video – produced by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service – shows how firefighting has changed in recent years. Fighting more fires and carrying out more rescues in the 1980s; fitting smoke alarms in the 1990s, developing education and home visits in 2000s; recognising older people were at higher risk in 2010; to developing Safe and Well visits in recent years.

This video is now being rolled out nationally to other fire services and partners, and is being supported by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) and NHS England. It is hoped the video will raise awareness of Safe and Well visits and encourage more people who would benefit such a visit to contact their local fire and rescue service.

Research has shown that people deemed to be more vulnerable are at a higher risk of injury and death from fire-related incidents.

This is part of a much wider partnership; Fire and Rescue Services across the country have joined forces with NHS England and other organisations to help tackle health and social issues, while working towards reducing winter pressures.

As a result, fire services will be carrying out more ‘Safe and Well checks in people’s homes, in particular those deemed to be more vulnerable.

Currently firefighters carry out 670,000 home safety checks each year – equivalent to visiting everyone who lives in Iceland twice – and are hoping to increase this number. It is hoped the ‘Safe and Well’ visits will particularly help people who are vulnerable and those with complex conditions.

As well as reducing the risks of a fire, the visits aim to reduce health risks such as falls, loneliness and isolation which will also reduce visits to A&E, broken hips and depression.

In addition, evidence shows that a high percentage of people will allow firefighters into their home due to the high level of trust they have; making it easier for them to give simple advice which could save or change a life.

The video also coincides with the recent NHS England, Local Government Association and CFOA document ‘Working Together’. This sets out how Fire and Rescue Services, health and social care organisations are at the heart of their communities and seek to help people stay safe and well in their homes, with particular emphasis on early intervention.

‘Working Together’ outlines the commitment of NHS England, social care, health providers and Fire and Rescue Service to work together and reduce future demand.

CFOA Lead for Health, Peter O’Reilly, said: “We know that joint working is having a major impact on the prevention agenda; specifically targeting people who are more vulnerable who are at a higher risk from death and injury from fire in their homes.”

Fire and rescue services and health and social care organisations are at the heart of
their communities; seeking to help people stay safe and well in their homes and in
their neighbourhoods.”

NHS England’s Head of Long Term Conditions, End of Life Care and Older People, Jacquie White said, “working better together just makes sense, we all need to maximise opportunities to ensure people stay safe and well in their home. The Fire and Rescue Service are reaching out to many of the same people and families who find themselves at risk of ill health.”

Neil Odin, Deputy Chief Fire Officer at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services, commented: ‘We are delighted to get the chance to share this video through CFOA as the important messages about the positive ways in which the fire service is changing to help make people not only safe, but also well, resonate beyond Hampshire out across the nation.’
The Fire and Rescue Service has a long and successful history of prevention and early
intervention. By working in partnership with other organisations including health and social care, all organisations involved in the partnership are seeing results.

Make good your escape

Make good your escape

We spend a lot of time and effort making sure people can’t get into our homes but often do we give any thought to how we would get out in an emergency?Plan-an-Escape-Route

In the event of a fire seconds count and this is why fire and rescue services and Fire Kills are asking people to take some time this spring to think about an escape plan for the home.

Unsung heroes

Installing a smoke alarm is only the first step in protecting you and your family. Make sure you install alarms that are suitable for your needs, correctly sited and working. CFOA suggest you test your alarms once a week. It’s a simple message but worth re-iterating. Fire statistics for 2013-2014 show in about 30% of dwelling fires there was no alarm and in 19% of fires there was an alarms but it did not operate. This is usually because of dead or missing batteries and in some cases the smoke never reached the smoke alarm – suggesting not enough were installed or installed in the correct places

It’s not enough just to install the alarms. An escape plan is of little use if you aren’t aware there is a problem.  For more advice about alarms please see CFOA’s earlier blog or contact your local fire and rescue service who may be able to carry out a ‘Safe and Well’ visit which can also include helping you devise an escape plan.

Escape Plan

Of course you won’t necessarily know where, when or even if a fire will break out in your home but it is worth considering the various escape routes available to you.

  • The normal route in and out of the home is usually the best route but your plan should assume this route is not available
  • Make sure that all exits from the house are clear of clutter
  • Keep stairways clear
  • Keys for windows and doors should be easily found and accessible to everyone in the home
  • Double check your windows – particularly if you are in a modern house or have replacement windows the upstairs ones should open wide to help you escape – avoid locking these
  • Make sure everyone in the house knows the plan – this includes children and guests
  • Try to make sure you have phones on all floors of your home or take your mobile upstairs at night
  • Close internal doors at night – they will reduce the spread of fire and smoke

What to do if you can’t get out

  • Try and get everyone into one room. Ideally with a window and phone
  • Try and stop smoke from entering the room by blocking the bottom of the door- use anything to hand, cushions, bedding, rugs – rip the curtains down if you have to
  • Open the window and call for help – shout “Help Fire”
  • If you cannot open the window you need to smash it. Hit it hard with an object in the bottom corner and protect yourself from jagged edges by putting something like a blanket or rug over them
  • If you are on the ground floor or first floor you may be able to get out of the window. Make sure you try and cushion the ground with bedding or cushions
  • Never jump out but lower yourself down

High Rise Flats

High rise flats are built to give some protection from fire. Unless smoke or fire is directly affecting you it is best to stay put unless instructed otherwise by a fire fighter.

  • Make sure communal areas are not cluttered or used to store items. Not only are they a trip hazard when escaping they can be fuel for the fire
  • Make sure doors in communal areas are not propped open
  • Report any damage to doors to stairways
  • Make sure doors leading to exits and stairwells are not locked or blocked
  • Never use the lift as an escape route

Once you have made an appropriate escape plan for your household make sure you practise it so everyone know what they should do in en emergency.

Behind closed doors

For 16 years Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) have reduced the number of fires, injuries and deaths with prevention visits to home owners. They now deliver about 670,000 free home checks across the UK annually.

It’s not always obvious to people when they are putting themselves at risk. What some people consider acceptable may send shivers down a firefighters’ spine.

On a recent home safety check South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service came across an oven which was being used to store ‘bags for life’ and biscuits. The image was posted on Twitter by firefighters and attracted a huge amount of attention. Even if the home owner was not a fan of cooking,  the oven could have been inadvertently turned on. The risk of fire would have been very high.

SYFRS Oven with bags
Image courtesy of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service who came across this oven filled with bags and biscuits.

How not to heat your home

Sometimes age or culture may mean people are just not aware of the risks.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service  visited the home of a Polish man who was using a home made radiator despite having a gas central heating system installed in his home.  The illegal and dangerous device was made from metal can filled with water. Two cables powered from a telephone socket were wrapped around a home made heating element. This would heat the water in the can and in turn heat the room.

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Image courtesy of Merseyside FRS

The voltage which was passing through from the phone socket was 20-50 milliamps, this kind of shock can cause breathing difficulties, paralysis of the chest muscles and can be fatal.

Gary Oakford Prevention Group Manager said; “The Incident Investigation Team had never come across a device like this before and obviously the risk of electrocution was a significant. The gentleman informed us that this type of device was common practice in Eastern European countries.”

In Chelmsford, a man had a very lucky escape when a Home Safety Check identified very high levels of carbon monoxide in his home. The CO monitors gave a reading of 100 parts per million (ppm) – the safe level is 30 ppm.

The elderly gentleman had been using his grill to keep warm not realising that this was leading to a build up of carbon monoxide.  More details of this visit can be found on the Essex FRS website

It is estimated that one person dies every seven minutes in winter due to the cold, some useful advice on how to keep warm and well can be found on this link from the NHS.

Safe and Well

What was clear from the home checks was there were common risk factors between people. Those that benefit most from advice from fire and rescue services often needed to access health services. For example, people with an addiction or dependency, loneliness or cold homes were at increased risk of fire and an increased likelihood to need to access NHS services.

FRSs  in some case can even deliver some basic health checks – for example sight or hearing checks and offer advice on a range of subjects from cooking safely to heating the home safely and avoiding trips and falls. This is additional advice is particularly useful for elderly and vulnerable people.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue have some useful information a  Safe and Well flyer with some case studies of how people have benefitted from their help.

CFOA would like people to take the time to spread the word about these visits and consider arranging one for older or vulnerable friends or relatives – with their permission of course.

A visit from your local fire and rescue service might just make sure that what goes on behind closed doors is not a disaster waiting to happen.

If you can’t stand the heat …..

There are plenty of reasons in February to get into the kitchen and have a go at rustling up some food for friends and family. So whether it’s a Chinese banquet, some flipping fun or trying to impress a date, this month is a good time to think about kitchen and cooking safety.

Children and cooking

Children love helping out in the kitchen, especially if you are making things like pancakes, but according to RoSPA 67,000 children get injured in kitchen accidents every year. Of these 43,000 are aged between 0-4 years.

  • Try not to hurry and don’t get distracted – this is how most kitchen fires start
  • Use the rear hotplates on the hob and turn pan handles away from the front of the cooker, this reduces the chance of child pulling something hot off the cooker
  • If you are using the oven keep children away. Children can get injured from hot oven doors or from steam and heat as the door is opened
  • Make sure the oven door is closed firmly after you have finished using it
  • Keep hot liquids clear of children and never hold a child while you have a hot drink in your hand. What seems lukewarm to adult can be hot enough to scald a child
  • Look out behind you – children – especially very young children or their toys can easily be a trip hazard in the kitchen
  • Be careful when you are cooking with oil or fats as they can spit and burn you or a child
  • Oil and fat can easily catch fire, careful not to overfill a pan with oil or splash it when you add food
  • If a pan does catch fire don’t try and move it, never use water, turn the heat off if you can, get out and call 999
  • Don’t leave children alone in the kitchen
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Figures from RoSPA say 67,000 children are injured in the kitchen every year

The NHS has useful information about treating scalds and burns.

Caution in the kitchen

The kitchen is the highest fire risk area in the home– up to 60% of fires start in the kitchen.  It’s not only due to the cooking it’s also because this area of the home has a high concentration of domestic appliances.

It’s worth registering your kitchen appliances so you are aware of any safety advice or product recalls. You can register appliances up to 12 years from purchase.

  • Make sure hobs and grills pans are clean, the build up of fat can cause a fire
  • Take care not to lean over hot hobs or gas flames
  • Keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob
  • Don’t cook if you have been drinking alcohol
  • Take care when cooking with hot oil – it can easily overheat and catch fire
  • Never fill a pan more than one-third full of fat or oil
  • Make sure food is dry before putting it in hot oil
  • If the oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot. Turn off the heat and leave it to cool

Be alarmed

Most people have experienced the smoke alarm going off when cooking. It can be annoying – more annoying than Piers Morgan apparently. It’s not unusual for people to remove the batteries. In 19% of fires where a smoke alarm failed to activate it was because the batteries were dead or had been removed.

If this is the case in your household it may be time to double check you have the right alarms in the right places.

  • Is your smoke alarm too close to the kitchen? If it goes off when you are cooking it might be
  • Consider a heat alarms for the kitchen. These will not be activated by cooking fumes but react to the temperature increase caused by fire
  • You can never have too many smoke or heat detectors, as a minimum you should have one on every level of your home. Consider additional alarms for other rooms especially if there are lots of electrical in the room – such as teens bedroom
  • Help your alarms help you, test them – ideally once a week, replace the batteries once a year unless they are mains connected or a ten year alarm
  • Plan your escape route- just in case
  • Make sure you have the right alarms for your needs. For example if you are hard of hearing you can get alarms which have vibrating pads or flashing lights to alert you

If you need advice take a look at your local fire and rescue service website. Details of UK fire services can be found on the CFOA website. They often have guides and advice, even home safety checklists for you to follow. There will also be details of any services they may offer to help with home safety. This could be anything from arranging a home safety check to an open day event at a local station.

We Can Be Heroes ….

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has launched a new look Fire Kills campaign.

The ‘unsung heroes’ campaign is asking people to take notice of their smoke alarms and test them on a regular basis and sets out to draw attention to the little boxes by giving them some personality.

 

The campaign comes on the back of recent research which showed people found their smoke alarms more annoying that Piers Morgan.

A working alarm is a life saver and can easily be overlooked as they are tucked up and out of the way. The friendly face smoke alarms will draw attention to the need to pay regular attention to alarms to keep them working.

It is not enough to simply fit smoke alarms. They can only do their job though if you take a few seconds each week to make sure they are working.

If you need them they will be there and raise the alarm no matter what time of night and day and this is what makes them the unsung heroes of the home.

CFOA recommends that alarms should be tested once a week. But, if everyone would test at least once a month then the 160 deaths from accidental fires in the home could be reduced.

In the event of a fire they can save a family’s life. Smoke fumes can render you unconscious and unable to escape a fire so an early alert is the best way so getting yourself and your family out safely.

It is a simple message but only half of householders who own smoke alarms test them on a regular basis.

It’s also important that tenants in rented accommodation. Don’t assume that it’s up to the landlord to test alarms. It is up to tenants to test and report any problems. However, new regulations introduced in October 2015, mean it is a legal requirement for a landlord to make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, if required, are installed.

Smoke alarm safety

  • Make sure you fit smoke alarms on every level of your home and ideally test them once a week or at least once a month.
  • Make testing your smoke alarm part of your household routine in 3 easy steps:
    1. Test it by pressing the button at least once a month
    2. Change the batteries once a year if your alarm has removable batteries
    3. Clean the alarms casing twice a year to ensure dust isn’t blocking the sensor
  • Whatever happens, never remove the batteries in your smoke alarms unless you are replacing it.
  • Make sure that everyone in your home knows what to do in a fire and knows your escape route.

Look out for the new adverts on posters, social media, in the press and on billboards and share the word about our unsung heroes, you might need them – one day.

New Fire Minister urges households to test smoke alarms

HomeFireSafetyCheck

The new Fire Minister, The Rt Hon Mike Penning MP, has urged the public to regularly test their smoke alarms as part of a New Year FireKills campaign.

Smoke alarms are a vital early warning of a fire which can give you and your family a chance to escape before it develops. CFOA encourages households to fit a smoke alarm on every level of their home and to test them weekly – or at least once a month. It is also important to know and practice your escape routes; a smoke alarm can warn you, but you have to be able to get yourself out.

Mr Penning said:

“With only half of people who own alarms testing them regularly, this campaign gives us a timely reminder to make sure our smoke alarms are working properly.

Research shows you are four times more likely to die in a fire if you live in a home without working smoke alarms.”

FireKills have launched a month long campaign on radio and social media to encourage people to get into good habits this year and test their alarm regularly. Check out their Facebook page for more details.

If your alarm is battery operated, change the battery once a year, or if you have a multi-year non-replaceable alarm, make sure you change it once the battery starts to fail. It is also important to maintain your alarms by keeping them clean and dust free.

Landlords are now required to fit smoke alarms in rented properties, following a change in the law in October. However, it is the responsibility of tenants to test them, and to inform the landlord if they need replacing.

To read the Fire Minister’s full statement, visit the Home Office website.

Resolve to make 2016 safer

It’s the time of year we once again make the effort to kick those bad habits such as smoking and drinking. CFOA is keen to point out that these changes can not only improve our health but can also reduce the risk of an accidental house fire.

Evidence from fire and rescue services across the UK shows the consumption of alcohol significantly increases the risk of an accidental fire in the home.

In November 2015 Peter Dartford, Chief Fire Officer for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and a past President of CFOA, spoke at Alcohol Concern’s annual conference and  outlined the strong links between alcohol and fire and fire related deaths.

If drink or drugs are a factor in a house fire the risk of death is over three times higher. Details of the government’s statistics for the effect of alcohol on casualty rates in fires in the home for 2011-2012 can be found by following this link http://bit.ly/1Pk6liS

London Fire Brigade said that one third fatal fires in their region are alcohol related. The cause is usually because the person has started cooking and fallen asleep. Additionally the consumption of alcohol means that you are less likely to respond to a smoke alarm. Being under the influence can easily make people disorientated and therefore less likely to be able to escape the fire safely and quickly.

If you are looking at New Year’s resolutions it is worth while taking a moment to think about your drinking habits. Is wine o’clock a little earlier than it used to be? Is it a little more often? Maybe you have got into the habit of having a drinking while cooking after work. Alcohol Concern’s #Dry January campaign has some useful guidance if you are thinking of cutting down.

How to reduce the risk of alcohol related fires:

  • Don’t cook if you have been drinking – treat yourself to a take-away
  • Avoid drinking too much so that you cannot take care of yourself or anyone else in the home
  • Don’t smoke in the house while you are drunk
  • Don’t use candles or any naked flames while you are drinking
  • Alcohol can impair your judgement – don’t attempt to tackle a fire yourself, call 999

If smoking is your habit then unfortunately you significantly increase your risks of an accidental house fire.

A smoker is 75% more likely to have a house fire than a non-smoker and smoking materials are the cause of 1 in 10 house fires. Smoking related fires are usually due to the careless disposal of cigarettes. If smoking is combined with alcohol then the risk of a fatal house fire increases significantly.

How to reduce the risk of smoking related fires:

  • Don’t light up if you are tired or have been drinking – it’s is very easy to fall asleep with a lit cigarette
  • Use a proper ashtray and make sure it can’t be knocked over
  • Make sure that you have put the cigarette out properly – maybe pop a little water in the ashtray just to make sure.
  • Be careful when you dispose of cigarette ash – hot ashes can start a fire
  • Don’t leave your cigarette unattended
  • Consider not smoking in the house and have your cigarette outdoors.

The number of fires caused by smoking related materials has decreased over the past few years but it is still the biggest cause of fatalities in accidental house fires.

Many people are turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking. Fire and rescue services across the UK have seen an increase in incidents relating these products as they gain popularity. Recorded incidents have risen from 8 in 2012 to 62 in 2014 and tend to relate to the charging or incorrect charging of these devices.

ecig-fire - London Fire Brigade

House fire caused by an e-cigarette. Image courtesy of London Fire Brigade.

If you are using an e-cigarette to help you quit smoking take the same precautions as you would with other small electrical devices.

  • Use the correct charger –even if the charger fits the voltage may be too high for your device
  • Avoid cheap or unbranded chargers
  • Don’t leave e-cigarettes charging unattended for long periods
  • Make sure you buy from a reputable store
  • Make sure your e-cigarette has a CE mark

Just in case you don’t manage to stick to your resolutions you can still decrease your risk of fire or accidents in the home in 2016. Contact your local fire and rescue service and ask them to carry out a home fire safety visit. This means you will get specific advice for your household and advice on what to do if a fire does break out.

Don’t leave older friends out in the cold this winter

Photo credit Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) is encouraging people to take action to keep older friends and neighbours safe this winter. It is estimated that there are approximately 200 unnecessary winter deaths in people aged over 65 per day in the UK.

Instead of just posting that Christmas card through the door why not take the time to pop in and double check any appliances or smoke alarms? People might struggle to check alarms are working. A quick check that batteries work and alarms are correctly fitted on each floor is vital.

Smoke alarms can give a person valuable time in the event of a fire. In 19% of house fires a smoke alarm was fitted but not working. Statistics show that 47% of fire deaths in 2013-14 were among people aged 60 or over.

For people living in private rented accommodation new legislation was introduced on 1st October 2015. It requires landlords to have a working smoke alarm on each floor of their property and carbon monoxide detectors in properties which burn solid fuel.

It’s worth taking some time just to check that they are able to heat their home sufficiently. Any electrical appliances being used for heating should be checked to ensure they don’t pose a risk to safety. A useful site for more information is Electrical Safety First.  Fire caused by electrical appliances and electric blankets have the highest rate of injuries – 440 injuries per every 1000 fires.

If electric blankets are being used it is important they are being switched off and stored flat and never use a hot water bottle at the same time.

CFOA is asking people to make sure older and vulnerable people take up the opportunity of a ‘Safe and Well’ visit from their local FRS. More information about how a visit can help can be found on GMFRS website and in their flyer ‘Safe and Well’.  Arranging a visit to a home might just prevent an accident or save a life.

The visits not only identify fire hazards but risk factors in the home that impact on health and well-being, which can lead to an increase in demand for health and local authority services.

Wider health impacts are also addressed during the visit, such as the identification of frailty, promotion and support of healthy aging, help to avoid trips and falls; and signposting people to relevant services and sources of help.

Paul Hancock, President of CFOA, said: “By working in partnership with health professionals we can help to protect some of our most vulnerable residents, while improving people’s quality of life. The Safe and Well checks will help to identify issues at an early stage, which could reduce the likelihood of older people being admitted to hospital by focusing on prevention measures. Firefighters carrying out these checks already have a high level of trust from the people they are visiting and will be able to give help and advice on a wide range of issues, while helping to keep our older residents safer.”

For more useful information NHS England and Age UK produced a useful document which you can download here ‘A Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing’ (PDF). It has winter advice and year round tips on staying safe in the home for older people.