Every man or woman’s home is their castle. It can and should feel like a safe haven, but make the wrong choices and you could put yourself and your family in danger.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is driving home the message of fire safety, emphasising that its role is not merely extinguishing blazes, but also preventing fires in the first place.
Nine community safety officers are now covering the county.
I meet Mark Jones, who was a fireman for 26 years, at Havant fire station.
Mark is a community safety officer and covers a vast swathe of Hampshire, from Hayling Island in the south to Alton in the north, with his colleagues covering Portsmouth, as well as Fareham and Gosport.
‘A large part of my job is visiting people’s homes where they may be a vulnerable person,’ says the 52-year-old.
‘That could be an elderly person, to someone with a disability, someone suffering from mental health issues, domestic violence cases, foster carers, and hoarders.
‘Just two weeks ago, we had a really good outcome from a hoarder.
‘We got some funding from the local council and got some volunteers from the fire service and the housing association and cleared the flat out for them.
‘That reduced the risk of fire in their flat.’
Mark visits people’s homes and draws up an advisory report on how to reduce the risk of fire.
Today he is visiting a woman who wants to foster more children, as well as a victim of domestic abuse who may be at risk of an arson attack.
Many of his clients are referred to him by the local authority or housing associations, but anyone can call up and request a home safety visit.
Advice will be given to all, although not everyone qualifies for a home visit if they are not deemed vulnerable.
‘A lot of times people don’t think they need a visit from us until you explain what the visit entails,’ says Mark, whose team have installed more than 6,000 smoke alarms in people’s homes over the last year.
‘We see a lot of overloaded sockets. That is not always people’s fault. There’s so many things that go with audio equipment.
‘The little short extension leads are great because they are fused. The old-fashioned blocks we don’t recommend any more because they can overheat.’
Mark suggests all families draw up a fire escape plan.
He says: ‘If you’ve got a family escape plan worked out that if you wake up at 3am and the smoke alarm is sounding, you all know what you are going to do, you will be safer than waking up and not knowing what you are going to do and running round trying to find the children.
‘It might be as simple as: “If the fire alarm sounds, we are all going to meet in Little Johnny’s room, phone the fire service, shut the door and wait for them to come”.
‘Just by shutting a door, you can create a safe haven.’
If you find your television or microwave ablaze, the general message is not to tackle it yourself.
Mark says: ‘If you discover your kitchen, lounge or bathroom is on fire, phone the fire service and get your family out.
‘It’s not necessarily the size of the fire, it’s the toxic fumes it gives out.
‘If you find a fire that has burned itself out, always call us and we can check it a) to make sure the fire is out and it’s not smouldering under the floorboards and b) to make it far easier for your insurance claim.’
Mark says people are generally becoming more fire safety conscious as time goes on.
‘People are more aware,’ he says.
‘I would like to think that is because of myself, colleagues and the fire service who have been out doing home safety visits.
‘Definitely, calls have come down.’
Mark’s food for thought is this - the three biggest causes of house fires are electricals, smoking and drugs/alcohol.
He explains: ‘Although alcohol does not start the fire, it can lead to a fire.
‘People are not always aware of their actions.’
Mark says everyone being more safety conscious helps yourself, as well as the county’s purse strings as it costs £500-an-hour for firefighters to tackle a house fire.
He says he feels a sense of satisfaction that his job is saving lives – just as much as when he was out tackling blazes with a hose reel.
‘People join the fire service because they want to help people,’ he says.
‘I have found by doing this I think I’m helping more people than I was as a firefighter. You are going out meeting the public face-to-face which is nice.’
I accompany Mark as he conducts a home safety visit at the home of Joanna Acevedo.
The 44-year-old, who lives in Denmead, is a foster carer and recently moved into a new home.
Luckily, her three-storey Victorian property has a working smoking alarm on each floor.
Her television sockets are not overloaded and her property also includes a fire blanket.
Joanna had thought the best escape plan was to get everyone out of the front door if they discovered a fire in the night.
But Mark explains that if a fire was raging on the ground floor, the best advice would be to get to a safe room away from the fire, close the door, and call the fire brigade.
Fighting your way through toxic fumes could be fatal.
Joanna says: ‘I felt with this house not being standard, I thought I should have somebody who knows what they are talking about.
‘It’s been very worthwhile. I will be speaking with my partner and the children.
‘I feel much happier now.’
For further information or advice people can contact the community safety department on (023) 8062 6809 or email email@example.com.
HOW TO STAY SAFE
· Fit a smoke detector on every floor of your home, ideally in the hallway or landing ceilings.
· Don’t put a smoke detector in the kitchen where it can be set off accidentally.
· Test the batteries once a week
· Plan your escape routes and keep exits clear.
· Get everyone to practice your escape plan.
· Keep door and window keys handy and tell members of the household where they are.
· Make sure they are in a proper holder and away from materials that can catch fire, such as curtains.
· Put candles out when you leave the room and make sure they are put out completely at night.
· Children should not be left alone with candles.
Safety in the kitchen
· Do not leave cooking unattended – take pans off the heat
· Take care when wearing loose clothing as it can easily catch fire.
· Keep cables and tea towels away from the hob.
· Switch off oven or hob when you have finished cooking.
· If you deep fry food, consider buying a thermostatically controlled electric deep fat fryer.
· Get out, stay out and call 999.
· Never throw water over it.
· Turn off heat if possible
· Do not move the pan.
· Do not overload sockets – keep to one plug per socket.
· Unplug appliances when you go to bed.
· Check and replace old cables and leads.
· Do not place cables under carpets and mats.
· Check electrical appliances for signs of loose wiring, scorch marks, hot plugs and sockets, fuses that blow.
· Never smoke in bed.
· Use ashtrays and empty to an outside bin regularly.
· Use child resistant lighters or matchboxes.
· Try to secure heaters against a wall for stability.
· Keep clear from curtains and furniture.
· Never use to dry clothes.
· Close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading.
· Turn off and unplug electrical appliances.
· Turn heaters off and put up fireguards.
· Make sure exits are clear.
· Keep door and window keys where everyone can find them.
FIRE CAUSES IN NUMBER
Source of ignition of fires (figures obtained from last six months)
· electrical 315
· barbecue 2
· candles 5
· chimney 2
· lighter/matches 16
· liquids/gases/fuels 6
· natural occurrence 3
· unknown 38
· other 13
· smoking materials 24
· lighted paper or card, or other naked flame 5
· camping stove 1
· spread from secondary fire 2
· welding/cutting equipment 1
Total (433 - 374 of these started accidentally)