How to prevent fires

Fires can start suddenly and spread quickly. The main sources of fires in the home are cookers, candles, electric blankets, fires and heaters. You can reduce your risk if you:

  • fit at least one smoke alarm on every floor and 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
  • 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.

You can get more safety tips from gov.uk/fire-safety-in-the-home or see our Home safety guide.

Getting help with fire safety

As we get older we 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
  • smoking.

Most local fire stations offer free Safe and Well visits, also called home fire safety checks, 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 how you can reduce those risks, and help you work out an escape plan. They may also fit smoke alarms or test any 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.

You can get special smoke alarms if you have sight or hearing loss. Your local fire service may help fit them. Contact Action on Hearing LossSense or the RNIB for more support with your specific needs.

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. 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.

Carbon monoxide

Unsafe gas, oil and solid fuel appliances can produce carbon monoxide (CO) 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:

  • headaches
  • stomach pain
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • 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 CO alarm in rooms where there is a solid fuel appliance.

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.

An alarm is not a substitute for getting your appliances serviced and tested. And even if you get your boiler serviced regularly, you still need a carbon monoxide alarm.

Electrical safety

Electricity can cause fires and electrical accidents can be fatal. You can avoid many risks by regularly checking your electrics for faults and using products safely. Keep all your gadgets and electrical appliances clean and in good working order. Check any cables for wear, especially if they’re hidden behind furniture.

Register white goods and other electrical appliances, including second-hand products, with the manufacturer so they can get in touch with you if there’s a safety issue. Or you can register them on registermyappliance.org.uk. You’ll need to know the brand name, the 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 and at night.

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.

If you use an electric blanket, get it tested after 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.

Don’t overload sockets, extension leads or adaptors. Only use one extension lead per socket and never plug an extension lead into another one. Use the socket overload calculator to make sure you’re not going over the maximum load.

Next steps

Contact your local fire service to ask about a free Safe and Well visit – you can find their details on www.cfoa.org.uk

You can get more advice and information about electrical safety from Electrical Safety First and download their free visual checks app.

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