As many as forty six people die in house fires in Ireland each year and many more are injured according to figures from the HSE. Taking reasonable fire prevention measures could have avoided many of these deaths and injuries.
We provide some practical advice on fire safety and prevention to help protect you and your family.
- Fit smoke alarms on each level of your home – outside bedrooms – at the top of open stairways or the bottom of enclosed stairs – near (but not in) the kitchen. Test the batteries in your smoke alarm every week and change them every year – never remove them
- Fitting Smoke Alarms is the simplest, single step you can take to cut the risk of dying from fire in your home.
- Plan a route to escape your home if there is a fire and make sure everyone in the house knows the plan and practice the plan on a regular basis.
- The best escape route is the normal way in and out of your home
- Think of any difficulties you may have getting out, eg at night you may need to have a torch to light your way
- Choose a second escape route, in case the first one is blocked
- Keep all exits clear of obstructions, like bicycles
- If there are children, older or disabled people or pets, plan how you will get them out
- Put a reminder of what to do in a fire somewhere where it will be seen regularly, like on the fridge door
- Put your address by the phone so that children can read it out to the emergency services
The first priority is to keep people safe by getting them out of the building. If you can’t escape, you’ll need to find a room to take refuge in. This is especially important if you have difficulty moving around or going downstairs on your own.
Decide where the keys to doors and windows should be kept and always keep them there. Make sure everyone in your household knows where they are.
See ‘Fire safety advice for parents and child carers’ for more information about talking to your children about fire safety.
When you are asleep, it takes longer to notice the signs of a fire. If you don’t have a working smoke alarm, there will be nothing to wake you.
To help prevent fires occurring through the night, it’s important to check your home for fire hazards before you go to bed. Make sure you:
- Close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading
- Check the cooker is turned off
- Turn off and unplug electrical appliances (unless they are meant to be left on, like your freezer)
- Put candles and cigarettes out properly
- Turn heaters off and put up fireguards
- Make sure exits are kept clear
- Inspect extension leads for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs. Do not overload extension leads or sockets. Have any installation and repair work carried out by a qualified electrician.
There are particular danger signs to look out for on all electrical items you have around your home. If you think something needs fixing or changing, do it straight away.
Plugs and sockets
For plugs and sockets, keep an eye out for the following:
- Hot plugs or sockets, scorch marks, fuses that often blow, or flickering lights – they are all signs of loose wiring or other electrical problems
- Badly wired plugs – any coloured wires sticking out could come loose and debris could also get into the plug
- Overloaded sockets – plugging too many electrical appliances into one socket can lead to overheating
Cables and leads
The risks with cables and leads include:
- Getting frayed and damaged – make sure the outer covering of all power leads is in good condition and replace if necessary
- Being badly positioned – they should not be anywhere that they could be tripped over, or near water, cookers or other sources of heat
- Running them under rugs or carpets where they can wear through without anyone noticing – position them elsewhere
For electrical appliances, you should never:
- Get them wet – this includes plugs and sockets, so don’t put a vase of flowers on top of the TV, for example
- Leave them on at night – unless they are designed to be left on, like freezers
- Put anything in the microwave that is made of metal, or has a metallic finish or parts
Cigarettes – put them out, right out
- More people die in fires caused by smoking than in fires caused by anything else
- Always stub cigarettes out properly and dispose of them carefully
- Ensure that matches and lighters are out of the reach of children.
Use candles carefully
- Candles, decorative lights and decorations are a growing cause of fires
- Make sure candles are secured in a stable holder and kept away from curtains, fabrics and paper
- Always put candles out when you are leaving the room or going to bed
Gas & Electric
- Know where your gas and central electrical panels are so you can shut them off in an emergency.
- If you shut off your gas line, allow only a gas company representative to turn it on again to make sure it is done properly.
Putting out a Small Fire
To put out a small fire, take away its air or fuel, or cool it with water or use a fire extinguisher.
- Never use water on an electrical fire. Use only a fire extinguisher.
- Oil and grease fires occur primarily in the kitchen. Smother the flames with baking soda or salt or put a lid over the flame if it is burning in a pan. Use a fire blanket if available.
- Small fires can be controlled with water or fire extinguishers, but do not try to put out a fire which is getting out of control.
More Serious Fires
Make sure everyone in the house knows about the fire – shout and get everyone together.
Get everyone out
- Don’t delay to save valuables or look for pets
- Don’t investigate the fire
- Crawl on the floor if there’s smoke – the air is cleaner near the floor, so put your nose as low as possible; remember – smoke is poisonous and can kill you
- As you go out, only open the doors you need to and close any open doors you can to slow the spread of the fire
- Before you open doors, feel them with the back of your hand; if they’re warm, don’t open them – the fire is on the other side
- If you’re escaping with others, stay together if you can
If your clothes catch fire
- Don’t run around – you will fan the flames and make them burn faster
- Lie down – this makes it harder for the fire to spread and reduces the effect of flames on your face and head (flames burn upwards)
- Smother the flames – cover the flames with heavy material, like a coat or blanket; this blocks the fire’s supply of oxygen
- Roll around – rolling smothers the flames
When you can’t get out by your escape route
If your escape route is blocked:
- If you’re on the ground floor, go out of a window – throw bedding or cushions onto the ground outside to break your fall
- If you can’t open the window, use a heavy object to break it at the bottom corner – cover any jagged edges with clothing, a towel or a blanket
- Lower children as far as possible before letting them drop – get an adult to break their fall if you can
- Lower yourself by your arms from the window ledge before dropping
If you can’t get out, get everyone into one room:
- Choose a room with a window, if you can
- Put cushions, towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to block smoke
- Open the window and call for help
- Think now about which room might be best for this – you need a window that can be opened and, if possible, a phone for calling 999
Once you’re out and safe, use a mobile phone, a neighbour’s phone, or a phone box to call the emergency services (999 calls are free). When you speak to the operator:
- Give your whole address, including the town
- Tell them what is on fire, eg ‘a two-storey house’
- Explain if anyone is trapped and what room they’re in – the more information you can give the Fire and Rescue Service, the more quickly and effectively they can help you
Don’t go back in
You should find somewhere safe to wait near the building. If there’s someone still inside, wait for the Fire and Rescue Service to arrive. You can tell them about the person and they will be able to find them quicker than you.
If you go back into the building, you will slow down the fire-fighters’ efforts to rescue anyone else missing, as well as putting your own life in great danger.
What to do if you live in an apartment block
If you live in an apartment block you will need to consider that a fire could start directly outside you’re apartment, or in the stairwell.
If a fire starts in your flat or the stairwell and you can’t get out:
- Get everyone into a room with a window; put cushions, bedding, or clothes around the bottom of the door to block smoke
- Open the window – if you feel in serious danger, wave a sheet out of the window so the fire-fighters know you’re there
- If the fire is directly outside your apartment, seal your front door with tape if you can, as well as using bedding or clothes
close any ventilators and phone 999, giving the number of your apartment
- If your front door becomes hot, wet it down.