When it comes to home fire safety, prevention is better than cure, and, while home insurance is important for recovering the cost of any belongings that are damaged or taken - and of course giving you peace of mind - doing your best to protect your home from disaster in the first place is essential. House fires can be devastating, so, with that in mind, here are a few tips on how to prevent them.
Identify fire risks
The first step is to identify any possible fire sources in your home, and know what to do to minimise the risks. There are many points in your home where a fire could originate - below is a list of some of the main causes of fire, and a few tips on how to stay safe.
If your home has an open fire, it's important to keep the chimney and flue clear of any soot by getting them cleaned regularly (at least once a year for coal fires, or twice a year for log fires). If you use a portable heater, then be sure to keep it away from flammable materials, and always turn it off and give it sufficient time to cool down before moving it.
When you buy a new appliance, check that it has a British or European safety mark. Be sure to keep electrical items in good working order, and avoid overloading plug sockets - the London Fire Brigade even has a handy calculator if you want to make sure you're not overworking your plug sockets. You should also be careful of the likes of curling tongs or hair straighteners - these can get very hot and should be left to cool in a heatproof area.
Candles, tea lights, cigarettes, oil burners and the like should never be left unattended. If you're a smoker, never light up in bed or anywhere you think you might fall asleep (especially if you've been drinking or are under the influence of medication). Use proper ashtrays, be sure to put cigarettes out carefully and take care that cigarettes are fully extinguished before emptying ashtrays into a bin. With naked flames, such as candles, be sure to keep them on a flame-resistant surface away from flammable materials, and extinguish them properly before leaving the room.
Never leave cooking food unattended, and don't cook if you're under the influence of drink or medication, or if you're tired - remember, it only takes a few seconds for fire to take hold. It's also important to keep flammable materials, such as tea towels, away from the stove, and clean cooking appliances regularly, as a build-up of grease or food could be a fire risk. If you're dealing with a fat fire, never put water on it and never use a fire extinguisher. The current recommendation from the Fire Service is simply: 'Get out, stay out, and call the emergency services.'
Detergents and chemicals
These should be kept in a clean dry environment and should never be mixed - combinations of even the most benign household chemicals have the potential to be very dangerous. These chemicals should be clearly labelled in order to avoid confusion and accidental consumption.
Tips for fire prevention
Being careful with fire sources is the first step to staying safe, but there are other measures you can take.
One of the most important steps in fire prevention is to make sure you have working smoke alarms fitted. You should choose an alarm that's marked with a British Standards or European safety mark, and fit them on every floor - choose rooms other than the kitchen or bathroom to avoid damage from steam. Keep them well maintained and change the batteries regularly.
Get into the habit of making checks before you go to bed to reduce the risk of a fire catching and spreading. Useful checks include: closing doors to prevent the spread of fire; turning off electrical appliances; and making sure the likes of cigarettes, oil burners, incense and candles have been fully extinguished.
Home safety checks
The Fire Service carries out fire home safety checks, whereby members of the service will inspect your home and talk to you about fire safety. If you're concerned about fire, arrange an appointment to get your home assessed by the experts. Checks are free, and could help you identify any risks.
Your place of work conducts fire drills for a reason - if a fire does take hold, then you'll have a routine to follow and a route mapped out. This will help you save time and account for all members of staff. The Fire Service has some tips on putting together a plan, and making sure it is effective.