Fire safety features have to be strictly designed into buildings especially high-rise ones. Hence, architects, structural engineers, construction people, interior designers, city authorities, and the owners of buildings should all be interested in precautions against fire. They should follow all the applicable building codes and approved practices.
The ever-increasing incidences of fires in multi-storeyed buildings are a dangerous trend.
A house has a lot of inflammable items in the form of gas, liquids and solids. Some of these are cooking gas, matchboxes, gasoline or petrol, kerosene, nail polish remover, paints and thinners, furniture polish and wax, cigarette lighter fuel, oil, any kind of plastic, clothes, specially synthetic ones, rugs, upholstered furniture, wood panelling etc.
The above list is not an exhaustive one but it should give A si”9’e match is enou9h t0 start a fire an idea that, except for concrete and metal, the rest can catch fire easily. One should, therefore, take all the necessary steps to avoid fires, detect them, fight them, and escape from them safely should the need arise.
The safety nuggets given below will help reduce the chances of fire and also in fighting a fire should one break out.
Fire in the kitchen
Do not store cookies, candy, etc. above the cooking range or stove. Children will try to get to them even if the stove is hot and in use. They are likely to get burnt.
Do not use the oven for storing pans containing oil leftover after being used for frying or for storing of utensils. It is very likely that someone will turn the oven on to warm it without first looking inside to check for the stored items. This may cause a fire.
Inflammable liquids, cardboard boxes, rags, etc., should be stored away from heaters, furnaces, cooking ranges, stoves, and even from direct sunlight.
Do not use or store aerosol cans near open flames or near a source of heat, including sunlight. The increased pressure in the can due to the heat-induced expansion of the gas inside will result in an explosive rupture, throwing pieces all around. This could hurt people and property, and the contents of the ruptured can, if inflammable, could ignite causing a fire. For the same reasons, do not puncture or incinerate an aerosol container even when empty since some amount of gas will always be there.
Do not let drapes, furniture, newspapers, other reading material that are combustible near the stove or near an electric room heater. Ensure that even a breeze cannot bring any of these near an open fire or a very hot surface.
Do you know that the temperature in a cigarette can be over 900°C and when a puff is drawn (which brings in the air), it can shoot upto 1200°C. Such a high temperature can ignite most of the materials and hence, one should be extremely careful about the disposal of cigarette butts. Even guests should be requested not to smoke in bed.
Keep cigarette lighters and matchboxes out of reach of children. They may be tempted to try to use them. This may cause a serious fire in the house, or the child’s clothes may catch fire causing serious burns. If there are smokers in the family, then one has to be more careful as not to leave lighters and matches in the bathroom, living room, bedrooms, etc. within the easy reach of children.
If possible, select non-flammable fabric for upholstered furniture and curtains. Place the upholstered furniture away from sources of heat.
Electric cords should not go underneath furniture since any damage to the cord can cause a short-circuit fire or give a shock.
The major cause of furniture catching fire is a smoldering cigarette or hot ash. It usually happens when the smoker is not careful, feels drowsy, or keeps an ashtray on the furniture itself. The old, the infirm and people under the influence of alcohol or medication may not safely dispose of a cigarette butt or ash. Keep an eye on them.
Toxic gases from a furniture fire can cause suffocation. If the fire cannot be brought under control soon enough, call the fire brigade and rush outdoors.
Common Useful Precautions
If there is a fireplace or a portable electric or kerosene heater in a room, there should be a screen or barrier so that no one can directly touch the fire or the hot elements. The room heater should be so placed that no one trips over it. It should be so located that it does not get knocked over. This will cause a fire. Hence, do not place it over rugs, carpets and other such easily combustible material. Also ensure that no combustible material is so close to the heater that the material gets heated by radiation and starts to burn.
Never place oil lamps, incense sticks, candles, on or near combustible materials. These may fall down or the candle may burn down to its base and cause a fire.
Every house has important papers and items to store such as house plans, house deeds, insurance policies, passports, cash, jewellery, adoption papers, wills, property transaction papers, bank papers, important medical documents, horoscopes, school certificates, college degrees, etc. These should be kept in a fire¬proof filing cabinet which can withstand heat from a fire for several hours. Such cabinets should also be strong enough to withstand a fall of several metres if the floor gives in. Such papers are irreplaceable and hence the extra cost of such a filing cabinet is well-justified. Duplicates of all the papers should be maintained at other premises for safety’s sake e.g. in your office, at a friend’s or relative’s house.
Fire poses a severe threat in high-rise buildings since smoke rises up and the fire spreads rather fast to the upper floors. Hence, install smoke detectors and fire alarms on each floor.
There should be an escape plan from the house in case of a fire. It should take various scenarios into account in the sense that a fire could be in any one or more sections of the house simultaneously. Hence, one may need several alternate plans. Practise the plans frequently to keep everyone aware, and paste an escape plan in the guest-room as well.
Children are likely to hide under a bed, inside a closet, or in a bathroom in case of fire. They should be told that these are not safe places in such situations.
All windows and doors that have security bars should open easily from inside to provide a means of escape in case of a fire.
Fire extinguishers are very handy for putting out small fires. Each house should have at least one. It should be recharged as recommended by the manufacturer. No one should try to save on the cost of such recharging since a false sense of security in an antiquated fire extinguisher is worse than not having one at all.
The use of the fire extinguisher should be taught and demonstrated to household personnel capable of handling such a unit which may weigh a couple of kilograms. However, if mis¬handled, the carbon dioxide or other gases released from a fire extinguisher can choke a person and cause significant harm.
In case of fire due to oil, grease or ghee, do not use water to put it out. Oil being lighter than water, will float over it and will continue to burn, thus spreading the fire all around. Use sand over such fires. One can also try smothering the fire with a blanket, jute bag, etc. If it is in a pan, cover the pan, thus effectively cutting out the air supply to the fire.
In case of an electric fire, cut the power supply. Then throw sand on it or use an appropriate fire extinguisher. Do not use water, it being a conductor of electricity and may electrocute people fighting the fire.
In case of a big fire, do not try to fight it regardless of its origin. Get out of the building as quickly as possible and raise the alarm. Do not try to collect your belongings. You may get trapped inside in the process as even seconds count in such a situation.
It has already been said that fire is a good servant but a bad master. Do not let it ever get out of control, even momentarily.
Remember. A minor lapse can cause loss of valuable lives, property, time and give lifelong suffering.