Thursday 3 August 2017

Learn the Grenfell Lessons - Ten fire safety tips for you and your family

Series of images showing the spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower
 Three years ago, we had a fire in our house. We were incredibly lucky in that our smoke alarms went off, and I was able to put it out. I was thinking about this, in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. As a follow up  blog, I made a top ten tips for fire safety for your home list. What struck me about my blog is that Kensington and Chelsea clearly had less concern for the saftey of their residents than I have for my readers. Had they done the things in the list, then maybe, just maybe, dozens of people would still be alive. Point no 1 about smoke alarms, no 5 about  having a proper fire plan, no 6 about identifying the risks in your home being perhaps the most relevant in this case. Here is the list.

1. Ensure that you have smoke alarms which work. Ensure they are in the right place and that they are loud enough to wake you up, as well as anyone else in you house. Change the batteries when they wear out. If you have a diary schedule a regular check of them.

2. Get a Carbon Monoxied alarm and place it near your boiler. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. A faulty boiler can give off fumes that can kill you. There is a common misconception that if you can smell gas, this means that you have a carbon monoxide issue. This isn't the case. Carbon monoxide is the waste product of the boiler burning gas and has no smell. Of course if you smell gas, this is a very dangerous situation as this can explode and kill you.

3. 2022 Update - I have had cause to revisit this. I would now not advise anyone to buy fire extinguisgers or fight any fire. The reason?  I met a lady who's husband died of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to fight an electrical fire. Extinguishers will only encourage you to take silly risks. I would advise you to get out asap and call the fire brigade. I'd also advise you to make sure you have Carbon Monoxide alarms that work.   

DO NOT DO THIS - Buy C02 fire extinguishers for electrical appliance faults. All of our homes have ever more electrical devices. If these catch fire, then throwing water on them will simply make matters worse. Small electrical appliance fires should be attacked with a CO2 extinguishe (not water), turning off the power first if possible. Of course this really applies only to small appliance fires, which are not out of control (ie a smouldering telly etc). Please note that if the issue is with wiring or anything other than  a small fault where the source is 100% obvious, always get out and call the fire brigade ASAP. It is fire brigade advice to always call for an inspection in the case of an electrical fire. - 2022 Update - I have had cause to revisit this. I would now not advise anyone to fight anything except the smallest fire that you are 100% certain is localised. I met a lady who's husband died of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to fight an electrical fire. I would advise you to get out asap and call the fire brigade.

4.  Buy an escape ladder if you are not at the ground floor level and ensure that you can use it. If you are in a first or second floor flat and there is a fire at ground level that has blocked your means of escape, then your survival is entirely dependent on the fire brigade evacuating you. Of course, they are well trained and very efficient, but with ever more cuts to the London Fire brigade, what happens, if all the fire engines are at another fire? Rope ladders can be purchased that will give you an emergency option, but make sure you have a secure fixing to fit it to, that is tested up to your own weight. I personally would only use this as a last resort.

5. Have a "family fire plan". In our house, the electricity main supply is situated under the staircase. Just suppose this caught fire at night. The whole family would be trapped. Evacuation by the fire brigade would be the only way we could escape. Bear in mind, this situation would occur in the nght with smoke, fire etc. So what should the family do? There are several options in our house, but it is important that the family know what these are and what to do. In many cases, if the fire brigade have been called, this could simply be maing sure doors are shut to bedrooms, to keep smoke out until bedrooms can be evacuated. As with all aspects of fire safety, your local fire station can offer advice if you are unsure or need some ideas. There is info from the fire brigade at Which details  the importance of having such a plan.

6. Identify what the risks are in your house. Do what you can to mitigate these. There are all sorts of silly things we do and don't even realise that we do it. In light of what happened, I had a quick look around the house and found that my other daughter, who is a keen artist, was doing a painting by her computer. A bottle of white spirit was open on her workstation desk. If this was knocked over and fell on the computer, this is flammable and would instantly cause a huge blaze. When we discussed this, nmy daughter realised that it was a safety risk. Like many dangerous thinks, we simply don't realise. Typical things to consider are flammable items above open fires etc.

7. Ensure Candles, Tea Lights etc, are only lit when seated in inflammable secure and safe fittings. The fireman who attended our house said he'd seen many fires caused by tea lights. If they are placed oin anything which could be flammable, they can heat up and set them on fire. He said people often put them on top of TV's and other things made of plastic that melt. If a candles falls out of its candlestick, what will happen? Will it set fire to any surrounding objects? Give this some consideration.

8. We have a house with 3 teenage children. When the fire brigade inspected the fire, he mentioned the fact that our stairs, halls and landings were like an assault course, with trip hazards galore. He quite rightly said that in the event of a nighttime fire, we'd probably break our necks tripping over them. He also pointed out that it was a danger to any firemen attending the scene. So keep your access ways clear.

9. Check your wiring.  Whilst most fires are caused by our own actions, another major cause is badly maintained wiring in homes. One of my friends is an electrician and his tuppence worth to the debate was to say that around Barnet, many homes are quite old and have very substandard wiring. Over the last 40 years, there have been massive improvements in legislation regarding the standards of wiring in homes. Modern houses are fitted with spophisticated fuse boards, with circuit breakers that trip if they detect all manner of potentially dangerous situations. Check your fuse board. If it has an old fashioned fuse board, with plug in fuses, then you are potentially exposing yourself to danger. Get a reputable electrician around to check the house out. It is worth considering that homes wired in the 1950's were not wired for the requirements of modern living, where we all have a TV, radio, Laptop and God knows what else in our bedrooms. You wouldn't fly on aircraft that was unsafe, so why would you live in one?

10. Don't light cigarettes when you are likely to fall asleep in a chair. One of the biggest causes of home fires are people falling asleep with cigarettes lit. These then fall and start fires. 

Having reviewed my list, I then had  a  look at the London Fire Brigade page on fire safety at home.

They have some great links that cover these topics on their website.  Please take a few moments to check their website - - it is full of sensible and practical information.

As with many bad things that happen, there are lessons to be learned. Its not just tower blogs that can burn down. It happens in all sorts of places. Please have a good long think about this. And if you work for a local authority and have responsibility for large tower blocks, then maybe you shpould have your own top ten fire tips for your council and for your tenants. Some tragedies are unavoidable. Sadly I think the Grenfell Tower was completely avoidable. I also believe that many house fires are avoidable, thats why I've republished the list.

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