Top Tips For Keeping Your Home & Family Safe This Winter

Tony Buckwell
June 4, 2020

Many people who have met me over recent years have probably only known me as a real estate agent. What may come as a surprise to some is that before my shift to real estate, I was a professional firefighter for 24 years, with over half of this career served as a supervising officer.

During this time I witnessed countless tragedies that resulted in the loss of homes and lives, or serious injuries. Sadly, most (if not all) of these losses may have been avoided with better fire safety awareness.

Tony Buckwell Fire Service

In this article, rather than reinventing the wheel, I pulled together all the best information available from Fire and Emergency New Zealand. Where there is more detailed information available on a topic I will include links to the Fire and Emergency NZ Website.

Top Tips For Keeping Your Home & Family Safe This Winter:

Smoke alarms:

  • Install long-life photoelectric smoke alarms. These are more likely to detect fires quickly than other types of smoke alarms.
  • Install smoke alarms in every bedroom in the house, especially if you usually keep bedroom doors shut.
  • If this isn’t possible, make sure you install a photoelectric smoke alarm in the hallway within 3 meters of the bedrooms.
working smoke alarm

There is a lot more to learn about smoke alarms, for example:

  • Hard-wired or battery operated? Photoelectric vs. Ionisation?
  • How many do I need?
  • Smoke alarm maintenance
  • Safe disposal of smoke alarms

For all the information you need to know about smoke alarms for your home, take a look at this smoke alarm guide.

Fire Escape Floor Plan

Escape Plans:

Did you know a house fire can kill you in less than five minutes? In a fire, you’ll probably be scared and disorientated. Unlike in the movies, toxic smoke will make it hard to breathe and see clearly as it quickly fills rooms down towards the floor level. You will only have 1 or 2 minutes from the sounding of the smoke alarm to when your life is seriously threatened by fire or smoke. That’s why it’s essential to have an escape plan in place, for the family to practice it regularly, and to know how to get to safety quickly.

To build an effective escape plan you will need to think about:

  • Smoke alarms in your home.
  • How you will make sure everyone in the household gets out.
  • A safe place where everyone will meet.
  • What are your best and alternative ways out?

Take five minutes now to create your escape plan now, so you can escape then.

Kitchen Fires:

Did you know that one in four house fires start in the kitchen? Making your kitchen fire-safe is a really important part of having a fire-safe home. Here are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk of a fire starting in the kitchen.

Putting out kitchen fires

When you’re cooking:

· Don’t drink and fry. Alcohol is involved in half of all fatal fires. Instead, pre-prepare a meal, get takeaways or use the microwave. Never attempt to drink alcohol or take medication that makes you sleepy when cooking.

· Don’t leave the room when cooking. If you have to, always turn off the stove first. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of house fires in New Zealand.

· Keep curtains, tea towels, oven mitts, and any flammable items well away from the cooking area when you’re cooking.

Keeping a clean and safe kitchen:

· Clean your stove-top after each use. This prevents spilled fats and burnt foods from building up.

· Clean range-hood filters regularly.

· Keep a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket somewhere in your kitchen. Make sure you know how to use them.

Smoke alarms:

Don’t install a smoke alarm in your kitchen. Smoke and heat from cooking (and the toaster) can activate the alarm. Smoke alarms shouldn’t be installed in the bathroom or laundry either.

You can still protect these areas with a heat alarm. A heat alarm is designed to activate when the room reaches a set temperature. They are useful in places where a smoke alarm would usually give false alarms.

For more information, take a look at our smoke alarm guide.

If a fire starts:

  • If your fry-pan is on fire, place the lid of the fry-pan, a wet tea towel, or another large flat object (like a chopping board) over the pan to starve the fire of oxygen.
  • Never throw water onto a fry-pan that’s on fire.
  • Never attempt to carry a burning fry-pan outside.
  • If you have a fire in your oven, try to turn off the power or gas, either at the stove or at the mains.

Heaters and clothes dryers

  • Remember the heater-meter rule – always keep furniture, curtains, clothes, and children at least 1 meter away from heaters and fireplaces.
  • Never cover heating appliances or store objects on top of them.
  • Don’t overload clothes dryers and clean the lint filter after each load cycle.
Heater fire safety

Electric blankets

  • Replace your electric blanket every 5-years with newer heat-protected models, which are safer.
  • Worn and old electric blankets can cause an electric shock, fire, and possibly even death.
  • At the first sign of wear have your electric blanket checked by a qualified electrician.
  • Don’t place heavy objects on the bed while the blanket is on.
  • Make sure the blanket is always flat on the bed and that controls or cords are not twisted or caught between the mattress and the base of the bed. Twisted cords are a common cause of electric blanket fires.
  • Roll your blanket when you store it for the summer, don’t fold it.

Fireplaces and chimneys

  • Clean chimneys and flues before you light the first fire of the season.
  • Always use a fireguard or spark-guard when using an open fire.
  • Never throw rubbish into the fireplace – particularly batteries and aerosol cans.
  • Always empty ashes and ashtrays into a metal bin and pour water over them before disposal. Remember that ashes can take up to 5 days to cool.
  • Keep matches, lighters, and anything else that can create fire out of reach of children.

Portable LPG gas heaters

  • Check to see the gas hose is in good condition and doesn’t show any signs of damage or wear.
  • If the heater does not light straight away, turn it off and then try again. Don’t let the gas build up before trying to relight it.
  • Always have fresh air coming into rooms where a gas heater is in use.
  • Have your heater serviced every 12 months.

Fire Extinguishers

If you have a fire extinguisher in your home, you’ll be better prepared to put out small fires before they become big ones.

Fire NZ

Using a fire extinguisher.

Only use a fire extinguisher when:

  • It’s safe to do so considering the size and location of the fire (your extinguisher will only last 10-15 seconds once started).
  • You’re confident you understand how to use the extinguisher correctly.
  • Everyone has been evacuated and accounted for at your safe meeting place.
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand has been called.
  • You can safely access and retreat from the fire.

For more information on fire extinguishers, including how to operate one, what type of extinguisher to select, and where to install them, I recommend you go to – www.fireandemergency.nz/at-home/fire-extinguishers

Home Fire Safety Checklists:

Want to make sure your home is fire safe? Use the Fire and Emergency NZ home fire safety checklists to find anything that might be putting you at risk.

My final comments:

Your local fire station should be your first point of contact for any advice you may need about fire safety in your home. When I was still in the NZ Fire Service we would happily install smoke alarms at no cost for homeowners who were unsure of where or how to install their alarms.

I hope you have gained some useful information from reading this blog. I wish you and your loved ones a cozy & safe Winter ahead.

Warm regards,

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