This week we had a visit from the Glasgow Fire and Rescue Service. Two firemen – yes, in uniform – came to the house.
‘We’re here to talk to you about your Fire Action Plan’, one of them said.
My what plan?
‘What you would do in case of a fire?’
Wasn't that rather obvious?
‘Well, I’d dial 999 and ask for you guys!’ I said.
‘But what would you do between making that call and us arriving? How would you make yourself as safe as possible until then? And what measures have you taken to prevent a fire starting in the first place?’
I realised I didn’t have a clue.
The officers did a tour of the house and berated me for having no smoke detector in the kitchen – there was one, but the previous regime had taken the battery out because, um, it kept going off. And I hadn’t got round to replacing it.
Nowadays the thing to have is a heat detector. It doesn’t react to smoke so you can burn all the toast you like, but if there is a dramatic change in temperature it goes off. Brilliant! They fitted one and so far it hasn’t made a peep, despite my attempts at home-made chips which were delicious but did get a bit smoky.
They also installed a smoke detector in the hall. I say installed, but it came with a ready-made sticky pad and they just pushed it on to the ceiling – no drilling, no screws, no damage and, best of all, no battery to have to keep changing, and no annoying beeps when said battery is running out.
The new smoke detectors have a 10 year battery – so that will certainly see us out of this house. Although they did say I should use a broom handle and give the ‘test’ button a poke every week just to be sure it’s working. I’ve said I’ll try to remember.
In each of the rooms they spotted several adaptors, each crammed with plugs, and told me that these were ‘not recommended’. By the end of their visit I’d come to understand that ‘not recommended’ was the equivalent to ‘if we could outlaw these suckers, we would’.
The weight of the plugs can pull the adaptor out of the socket just enough to cause an electrical problem and, ultimately a fire. Better to use the trailing extension plugboards which lie on the floor. You get the same number of sockets and they’re much safer, although you need to be mindful of the total amperage, or splash out for the more expensive version in which each socket is separately fused.
I slightly glazed over during the amperage conversation. Why can’t plugs be coloured coded so that you know straight away the amperage? Red plugs for 13 amps, Blue for 5 amps and Green for 3 amps, for instance. Surely someone needs to get on Dragon’s Den and sell that idea. You could even have an extension cable that flashes if you overload it, or refuses to work.
I learned that keeping a door closed can keep fire out for as much as 18 minutes – as long as the door fits well. And that the fire service is ‘more than likely’ to get to most peoples’ home in well under 18 minutes. So it’s worth keeping as many doors closed as possible, especially at night and when you are out.
Windows are now considered a means of escape (they weren’t always, for some reason – I forgot to ask why) so it’s a good idea to know which of the windows you can open (in Dad’s house that’s none – some idiot painted them all in) and, if you need to unlock a window, make sure you know where the key is. And really the keys should be in the same room. Sounds obvious until you go to look for the keys and realise they’re not in the room they’re for, and in fact they're nowhere to be found in the house.
My situation is slightly different because Dad is immobile. So I won’t be closing his bedroom door, or mine. There’ll be no climbing out of any windows for him, and clearly I won’t be abandoning him in a blaze if I can possibly help it. The firemen made a note of Dad as a vulnerable adult, so that in the unlikely event of a fire they would be ready to carry him out. Another thing worth doing, because time wasted could be catastrophic.
The officers were pleased that no-one smokes here, and that we aren’t great users of candles – especially the little tea lights which are a major cause of fires, apparently, and ‘not recommended.’ The foil cases can become hot enough to melt a hole in a bath and set light to floorboards below, or to melt through the casing of a television set and start an electrical fire, so they should be put in a holder or a dish at all times.
And we don’t any longer have open fires. We must be a very different risk from the days when we all smoked, had real fires (before we had central heating) – and when burning candles and joss sticks was an essential accompaniment to listening to music.
So now we have two plans:
A Fire Prevention Plan
Avoid using adaptors.
Switch off at the socket and unplug all unnecessary electrical items when not in use and especially at night.
Don’t overload the extension boards.
Unstick any windows that would be a good means of escape. Make sure that any window locks have the necessary keys in the same room, and in a place you can easily find them.
Install smoke detectors and a heat detector in the kitchen.
A Fire Action Plan
Close all doors at night, where possible.
Have a phone in the room where you sleep in order to call 999 in case of emergency.
If a smoke detector does go off, first check the back of the door to the room where you’re sleeping to see if the fire is close by. If the door is warm this means the fire could be on the other side, so don’t open the door. Stay in the room until help arrives.
Block any gaps around the door to prevent smoke getting in.
If the door is cold and the fire is in another part of the house, get out of the building as long as your escape route is safe.
Don’t try to jump out of a window above ground level – more people are injured by jumping than by fire.
I'm grateful for the Fire Officer's visit and their advice - what may seem like common sense in the cold light of day, might have been rather harder to figure out in the grip of an emergency, especially with an immobile, demented Dad in the house, so I'm glad to have gone through it and to have had the detectors installed.
Now I just need to find a partner to develop my idea of colour coded plugs. Dragon’s Den, anyone?
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