Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Winter is Coming" - and with it comes an increase in fire danger

Winter is synonymous with wood fires and electric blankets, and July, being the coldest month of the year, is the time when most house fires and fatalities occur.
In winter, Tasmanians spend more time indoors and make greater use of heating appliances than residents of other Australian states.

Whilst carelessness is a significant contributing factor to house fires, most residential blazes are caused by heating and cooking appliances that are faulty, misused or left unattended.

Hanging clothes in front of heaters, or allowing sparks to shoot from an unguarded fire, are two of the major causes. Faulty electric blanket wiring or switches is another.

‘It can take as little as three minutes to lose your home and family to a fire,’ Tasmania Fire Service chief officer, Mike Brown said in a recently launched awareness campaign.

Sadly, the people most at risk of falling victim to domestic fires are children, the elderly and people with disabilities. In some instances the risk of becoming a fire fatality is compounded by the installation of home security devices.

Fitted metal grills on windows and security doors are intended to protect the home owner from forced entry, but they have the potential of compounding the risk of the resident becoming trapped in their own home and falling victim to a fire.

It is a Catch 22 situation.
Heavy-duty security doors also hinder the brigade’s entry into the premises.
In a fire emergency every second is vital.

Damien Killalea, Director Community Fire Safety (Tasmania Fire Service) recounts the tragic deaths of two people in a house fire in Tasmania some years ago. One died because he was unable to escape through a locked door.
Phill Cribb of Fire and Emergency Services (WA) recounted three deaths in three years from residents being unable to exit their homes when a fire took hold.

‘I am aware of one victim,’ he said, ‘who got to the door and had the security door keys in their hand but could not get the door open.’

Kevin Devitt of Queensland Fire and Rescue Service described a tragic fire at the home of an elderly woman several years ago, who had recently had a security screen installed. When a fire took hold, she was unable to find her keys and died as a result of the blaze.

While deadlocks and security grilles may deter thieves, they can be deadly in a fire.
Keys to deadlocked doors should be left in the lock or very close by. There is no time to search for them when a fire erupts.

Security shutters installed to keep criminals out should be fitted with a quick release mechanism to allow the occupant to exit in an emergency.
Panic screens can be pushed out from the inside.

Mr Killalea advised that in 2011, Tasmania recorded three fire-related accidental deaths in residential dwellings.

In 2012 there was only one accidental fatality and in 2013 there were no deaths in house fires in the state.

Eighteen years ago, Tasmania significantly increased its focus on fire fatalities, and house fires.

‘As a result we’ve seen significant decreases in both these areas,’ he said.
It appears the campaigns and other initiatives are having a positive effect.

Some important advice from Tasmania Fire Service:
Every house should have working smoke alarms; one in each bedroom and in hallways to exits.
Every household should have a fire escape plan – possibly the most important plan you will ever make.
In the case of fire, get out quickly, and once outside – stay outside.
Keep keys in deadlocks or very close by and never allow newspapers or boxes to pile up in hallways. The best fire escape plan is worthless if your escape route is blocked.

More information on fire safety and security in the home can be found on the Tasmania Fire Service website www.fire.tas.gov.au

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