South Africa’s Bitterly Cold Winter Brings Fire Along With It…

Vision Tactical Media

Emergency personnel have to respond to fires at homes and informal settlements across South Africa.

In the bitterly cold winter weather – the risk of injury from fire significantly increases.

Vision Tactical together with other emergency organisations provide you with tips on how to protect yourself and your home from a possible fire.

In South Africa, a Medical Research Council report estimates that each year 3.2 percent (1 600 000) of the country’s population will suffer from burn injuries, with the vast majority being from poorer communities.

This high incidence is driven by negative impact factors including the influx of people to urban areas, haphazard urban development, overcrowding, inadequate electrification of homes in low-income communities, paraffin and bio-mass fuels used as the primary energy sources, and lack of effective preventative and education programmes.

House Fires as a threat to the Safety of Children

Young children are particularly vulnerable, with death as a result of burn injuries claiming approximately 1 300 young lives each year. This concentration of burn mortality and injury among infants and toddlers occurs more frequently among very young black children below the age of three.

Older children also spend an increasing amount of time with other children, older siblings and adults outside the home. This widening social network exposes them to risks posed by open fires initiated for heating and cooking and managing heating appliances and heated appliances or utensils.”

What can you do to protect yourself and to prevent fires at home?

Accidental fires are just that – an accident. There are however, a number of ways to prevent a fire starting accidentally in your home or business. It starts with having the knowledge of possible causes of fires, and being aware of seemingly harmless objects in your home or business that could ignite and lead to a fire.

Sources of Fire: What are causing these fires?

The most probable sources of a potential fire inside the home could come from any of the following, but is not limited to these few that are mentioned:

Frayed electrical wires on appliances

Burning candles

Heaters/electric blankets

Cigarette/cigar/tobacco pipe embers

Fire places

Gas leaks followed by a spark igniting

Children playing with matches

Burning oil on a stove top

Most of these though would need to be accelerated by another source, for example a roll of toilet tissue near a heater may ignite and start a fire. It is therefore very important to keep the area around any of these potential fire hazards mentioned above clear. Don’t leave any heater/heated appliance or open flame burning while you leave the room.

Synthetic materials are widely used in household furniture. This material is highly flammable and will burn quickly once set alight. Keep open flames or embers away from foam matrasses, stuffed couches, curtains and carpets. These usually also cover a wide surface area and will be the cause of other maybe less flammable objects to catch alight.

Preventing Fire at Home / Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to a fire possibly breaking out in your house:

DO buy a small fire extinguisher from a reputable dealer to keep in your home – note the correct way to use it

DO familiarize yourself with emergency numbers in the event of a fire and medical emergency

DO take note of warnings on selected appliances – do not cover heaters

DO check electrical cables regularly for damage

DON’T leave the room where a candle is burning, heater is on, fire in the fire place is still burning fiercely, oil is on heat atop the stove etc.

DON’T pack personal belongings before leaving the house in the event of a fire

DON’T try and put an oil fire in the kitchen out with water

DON’T open a closed door of a room suspected to be on fire.

DON’T enter a room that is on fire

DON’T re-enter the home once you have exited away from the fire

DO stay low to the ground when exiting a smoke filled room. Smoke will rise and staying low will minimise the potential for inhalation injuries.

DO cover your nose and mouth with a (moist) cloth. This also minimises the inhalation of smoke by breathing through a barrier.

DO exit the burning building as soon and as safely as possible.

DO extinguish cigarettes/Cigars and Pipe Tobacco in the appropriate manor

Unfortunately, having a smoke detector and alarm in each room of the house is not common practice in South Africa but it should be encouraged. These somewhat simple devices are inexpensive and are easy to install. Have them checked and make sure that the batteries are kept charged.

A general rule to follow is to stay as far away from an uncontrolled open flame as possible.

How to respond after a fire:

If someone has been burnt follow the above steps and remove any tight clothing and jewellery.

If someone has inhaled smoke, move them to an area with fresh air.

Not everyone has access to uncontaminated water.

Not everyone has access to running water, especially over a 20 min period.

Call the ambulance service and fire department when there has been a fire or someone has been injured.

Despite there being many aspects of fire safety these are a few basic concepts that can help prevent the start and spread of fires, which can not only cause burns but also severe complications from inhaling the smoke produced by fires, which can cause injury can even death.

 

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