Request a free home safety visit from the NIFRS
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) offers a free home fire safety visit, based on certain criteria. It will inspect your home to help you spot any potential fire hazards and show you what to do to reduce or prevent the risk of fire. It can also advise you on an escape plan if there is a fire. Request a free home fire safety check here.
We chose to write about this topic even though it is not exclusively a male issue because we felt it was important for men who live on their own. Elderly men, those who are bedridden, disabled, students or even single dads.
Having a working smoke alarm, especially if you are living on your own, is very important. You are more than twice as likely to die in a fire at home if you haven’t got a smoke alarm. A smoke alarm is the easiest way to alert you to the danger of fire. They are cheap, widely available and easy to fit. Prices range from £5.00 to £10.00. Whichever type you choose, make sure that it meets British Standard 5446, Part 1 (BS 5446-1) and ideally also carries the British Standard Kitemark.
Ask the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service for advice about which alarm is best for your circumstances.
Smoke Alarms for People with Hearing Impairment
For people who may not be able to hear a conventional alarm there are special devices available which make use of a vibrating pad or flashing light instead of the audible signal. The vibrating pad alarms are particularly useful for deaf-blind people. Further information is available from the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. These alarms are more expensive than conventional alarms.
Installing your smoke alarm
Installing a smoke alarm only takes a few minutes – just follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The best place is on the ceiling, near or at the middle of the room or hall. The alarm should be at least 30cm (one foot) away from a wall or light.
Maintaining your smoke alarm
To keep your smoke alarm in good working order, you should:
- Test it once a week, by pressing the test button, until the alarm sounds (remember the “thumbs up on Monday” campaign)
- Change the battery once a year (unless it’s a ten year alarm)
- Once a year clean dust from the detector – a quick vacuum with the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner does this very effectively
- Replace the whole unit every ten years
Make a bedtime check
- Check the cooker is turned off
- Turn off and unplug electrical appliances, unless they are meant to be left on, like your freezer
- Put candles and cigarettes out properly
- Turn heaters off and put up fireguards
- Make sure exits are kept clear
- Close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading
Make an escape plan, involve everyone who lives in your home, including children, older people or people with disabilities and any lodgers. If there is a fire DO NOT tackle it yourself. Get out, stay out and dial 999.
Here are some tips to help plan your escape from fire:
- The best escape route is often the normal way in and out of your home
- Think of any problems you may have getting out, for example at night you may need to have a torch to light your way
- Choose a second escape route in case the first one is blocked
- Keep all exits clear of obstructions, like bicycles. Leave nothing on the staircase, like laundry baskets or shoes
- If there are children, older people or people with disabilities or pets, plan how you will get them out
- Identify a safe place to go if you can’t escape
If you can’t escape, try and get everyone into a room, preferably with a window. Place cushions, bedding, curtains or towels at the base of the door to prevent smoke from getting in. Dial 999.
Christmas Safety Advice
Christmas is a special time for celebration and should not end in tragedy because of the extra hazards that are present at this time of year.
- Check the fuses are the right type (see the box for the maximum size of fuse you should use)
- If bulbs blow, replace them
- Don’t leave fairy lights on when you go out or when you go to sleep
- Don’t let the bulbs touch anything that can burn easily, like paper
- Don’t overload sockets
- Decorations made of light tissue paper or cardboard burn easily
- Don’t attach them to lights or heaters
- Don’t put them immediately above or around the fireplace
- Keep them away from candles
Special fire safety precautions need to be taken when keeping a live tree in the house. A burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too early, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard. Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
Candle Safety Advice
Candles are now a more popular way to create an atmosphere or a particular smell within the home. The increase in candle sales spikes over the festive period which in turn is responsible for more candle related incidents at this time of the year.
The Do’s and Dont’s
- Always put candles on a heat resistant surface. Be especially careful with night lights and tea lights, which get hot enough to melt plastic
- Put them in a correct stable candle holder. Candles need to be held firmly upright by the holder so they won’t fall over
- Position them away from curtains. Don’t put candles near curtains, fabrics or furniture and keep them out of draughts
- Don’t put them under shelves. It’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of heat above a burning candle. If you put it under a shelf or other surface then it can burn the surface. Make sure there’s at least three feet (one metre) between a candle and any surface above it
- Keep clothes (particularly loose scarves) and hair away. If there is any chance you could lean across a candle and forget it’s there, put it somewhere else
- Keep children and pets away. Candles should be out of reach of children and pets
- Keep candles apart. Leave at least four inches (10cm) between two burning candles
- Take care with votive or scented candles. These kinds of candles turn to liquid to release their fragrance, so put them in a glass or metal holder
- Don’t move them when they’re burning make sure they are fully extinguished.
- Don’t leave them burning in an unoccupied room
- Use a snuffer or a spoon to extinguish, these are much safer than blowing them out which can disperse hot wax
Electric Blanket Safety Advice
As the cold weather spreads and temperatures drop, take a few minutes to check that your electric blanket is safe for continued use. Electric blankets account for over 5000 fires a year in the home and you can prevent these by taking some simple steps.
Electric Blanket danger signs
- Fraying fabric
- Scorch marks
- Exposed elements
- Creasing or folding
- Damp patches
- Tie tapes damaged or missing
- Worn flex
- Loose connections.
If your blanket or any part of the wiring shows any of these danger signs, you should have it checked or replaced. An old BEAB safety mark – a round symbol (the new sign is white capital letters on a black background) means it is more than 10 years old. You should replace you electric blanket at least every 10 years. Don’t buy a second hand blanket and look for the British or European standard and make sure it has a safety certification mark. Make sure the blanket has an overheat protection.
Buying a new electric blanket
It is cheaper to replace a worn electric blanket than it is to replace your family and your home. So if you are in any doubts about the condition of your blanket dispose of it and buy a new one.
Using your electric blanket
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before use
- Use the blanket only for the purpose the manufacturer intended, i.e:
- Over-blankets must only be positioned above the occupant of the bed
- Under-blankets must only be positioned under the occupant of the bed
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions for suitability to wash your blanket
- Carry out a visual check of the blanket to make sure the blanket is intact with no visible signs of damage caused in transport when first purchased
- If the fuse in the 13 amp plug requires changing, a 3 amp BS 1362 fuse must be fitted
- Use the blanket whilst it is still folded, rucked or creased
- Use a hot water bottle at the same time as using your electric blanket
- Touch the blanket with wet hands or feet
- Insert or use pins to hold the blanket in place on the bed
- Use the under-blankets on adjustable beds, or if used on an adjustable bed, check that the blanket and cord do not become trapped or rucked, for example in hinges
- Use an electric blanket on the bed of a helpless person, an infant or a person who may have a condition that makes them insensitive to heat
- Allow the appliance to be used by young children unless the controls have been pre-set by a parent/carer or that you are satisfied that the child is able to use the appliance safely
- Allow people with pacemakers fitted to use heated bedding for all night use
Store your blanket safely
Storing your blanket in the correct manner will ensure you get the best from it. Don’t fold electric blankets – it can damage the wiring. It is better to roll them. Or you can store blankets by putting them on a spare bed. Electric under blankets can be left on your bed all year if you wish.
Please note: The fire and rescue service are not qualified electricians and therefore unable to test electric blankets. Electric blankets will need to be tested by a competent electrician with the correct qualifications to do so.
Make sure your blanket is tested by a competent electrician at least every three years. You can ask the shop where you bought it from about testing and servicing, or contact the trading standards department at your local council.