How to prevent fires
Fires can start suddenly and spread quickly. As we get older, we may become more vulnerable to fires. Keeping up with home maintenance may become more difficult and our ability to detect fires can be reduced. Other risk factors include:
- reduced mobility
- sensory impairments, such as loss of hearing, sight, smell or touch
- some medications
- alcohol or substance misuse
The main sources of fires in the home include cookers, faulty electrical appliances, fireplaces, heaters and candles. You can reduce your risk if you:
- fit at least one smoke alarm on every floor. Test them regularly - about once a month - and replace them after 10 years. If they're battery-powered, change the batteries every year or get a 10-year sealed battery.
- unplug appliances at night unless they're designed to be left on (your fridge, for example)
- never leave candles or cigarettes unattended and put them out properly
- don't smoke anywhere you might fall asleep
- use a fireguard if you have a working fireplace
- don't dry clothes on fireguards or heaters and place portable heaters at least one metre (three feet) away from anything that might catch fire
- plan and practise your escape route and keep exits clear
- close internal doors at night and when you go out.
Getting help with fire safety
Most local fire stations offer free Safe and Well visits, also called home fire safety checks. These are for vulnerable people, such as older people who live alone or have mobility problems. If you’re eligible, they’ll assess your home for risks, advise on how you can reduce those risks, and help you work out an escape plan. They may also fit smoke alarms or test any that you have. You can find the contact details for your local fire and rescue service on the Chief Fire Officers Association website.
If you have sight, hearing or mobility issues or you use oxygen, you can register with your local fire service. In an emergency, the fire crew who attend will be told about your situation.
What to do if there's a fire
Get out, stay out and call 999.
Try to stay calm and follow the fire service advice to get out, stay out and call 999. Don’t attempt to put the fire out – leave it to the fire service. And don’t go back in until you’ve been told it’s safe. You can also call if you can smell burning but don’t know where it’s coming from. Fire services have equipment that can detect sources of heat.
Gas and solid fuel safety
All your gas appliances should be installed, serviced regularly and safety checked every year by a registered gas engineer. If you’re renting, your landlord is responsible for this. By law, all gas engineers must be on the Gas Safe Register. Gas Safe registered engineers carry ID, which tells you what appliances they’re qualified to work on.
You may be able to get a free gas safety check from your supplier if you’re over pension qualifying age and receive certain benefits. Contact your supplier to find out if they provide this service and ask to be put on their Priority Services Register.
If your appliance uses solid fuel such as coal or wood, you should have it cleaned and serviced regularly by a HETAS registered installer. You can get more information about solid fuel safety from the Solid Fuel Association. If you use an oil appliance, contact OFTEC.
All gas appliances need enough air to work properly. Never block ventilation points, even if you feel they’re draughty, and make sure the appliance flue is kept clear at all times.
If you use a fireplace, get your chimney swept regularly so the fumes can go up and out. Contact the National Association of Chimney Sweeps or ask friends and neighbours for a recommendation.
Unsafe gas, oil and solid fuel appliances can produce carbon monoxide which is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. It’s especially dangerous when you’re asleep and unaware of the early symptoms.
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are similar to a cold, the flu, a virus or food poisoning and may include:
- stomach pain
- feeling sick and vomiting
- tiredness and confusion
- shortness of breath.
You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide but there may be some warning signs, such as:
- dark staining on or around appliances
- a pilot light that keeps going out
- a flame that is yellow or orange rather than blue on your cooker
- increased condensation inside windows.
You should consider installing an audible carbon monoxide alarm. Private landlords are required by law to install a carbon monoxide alarm in rooms where there is a solid fuel appliance. An alarm is not a substitute for getting your appliances serviced and tested. But even if you get your boiler serviced regularly, it’s still a good idea to install a carbon monoxide alarm.
What to do if there's a gas leak
If you suspect a gas or carbon monoxide leak, call the free national gas emergency number 0800 111 999. You need to act quickly:
- get fresh air - open all the doors and windows to ventilate the area
- if you know where it is, shut off the gas supply at the meter control valve
- don’t use electrical switches as this can ignite gas
- extinguish all naked flames
- if you feel unwell, contact your GP or local hospital and tell them you may have been exposed to gas or carbon monoxide.
Electricity can cause fires and electrical accidents can be fatal. You can avoid many risks by:
- regularly checking your electrics for faults
- using products safely
- keeping all your gadgets and electrical appliances clean and in good working order
- checking any cables for wear, especially if they're hidden behind furniture or under carpets.
Water conducts electricity so you should never take mains-powered appliances such as heaters, hairdryers or radios into a bathroom. And don’t switch off a plug with wet hands.
Register white goods and other electrical appliances, including second-hand products, with the manufacturer or registermyappliance.org.uk so you can find out if there’s a safety issue. You’ll need to know the brand name, serial number, the model and when you bought it if you can remember.
It’s recommended that you get your wiring checked by a registered electrician within ten years of installation and every five years after that. You should also:
- make sure you buy electrical appliances with a British or European safety mark
- check plugs and sockets for any damage – they shouldn’t have burn marks, give off excessive heat or make crackling noises
- check wires on appliances
- unplug appliances when you're not using them, at night or when you go away
- never overload sockets, extensions or adaptors - only use one extension lead per socket and never plug an extension lead into another one. Check you’re not going over the maximum load using Electrical Safety First’s online socket overload calculator tool.
If you use an electric blanket, get it tested every three years and look out for signs of wear, such as scorch marks, worn flex or frayed material. Never use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together, even if the blanket is switched off, and don’t use one if you have continence problems. Consider replacing it after ten years. Electric blankets should be recycled with other electrical goods and not put in your domestic waste bin.