The heat is on over fire safety

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It might just be a case that there is a natural tendency for events to run in series, but I find it rather disturbing when the news systems run several fatal domestic fire stories in quick succession.

Fair enough, the media can only report on what happens, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy at times, but there is a chilling aspect to such fires.

Like many other folk, I am scared stiff of fire, haunted by the notion that one day my own house might go up in smoke. For that reason, I am ever grateful to the guys who put out blazes, but even more so to those who do whatever is possible to help us prevent outbreaks in the first place.

At home I am a dedicated fire checker – and have been for years.

I try to keep the number of connected electrical appliances to a minimum and have a routine to double check the gas stove before leaving the house or going to bed. I would rather my wood-burning stove went out than build up a big fire before leaving it unattended for any length of time, although we are more or less finished with this device for the summer.

This means the chimney will once again become a residence for the crows that are already doing their level best to build a nest there. Their efforts have been well assisted this time due to Wee Tam shedding his pup coat, which requires some serious outdoor grooming as we try to transform the scruffy little devil into a smart adult mini-hooligan. The crows soon swoop on the combings for nest lining, so the resultant crowlets will be very snug in their early stages.

But there is more to fire measures than mere vigilance.

In many cases, a house blaze could be well alight before the alarm is raised, thus making any attempt to fight the outbreak futile and dangerous. If I remember the correct advice, the best move is to get out and stay out – life is worth more than possessions. Second is to make sure anyone else in the building does the same.

I emphasise that lingering to rescue personal belongings is not a good idea, although it would be only human nature to evacuate pets if at all possible.

It might sound a little over the top, but keeping personal and financial documents in one of those well-ordered document cases and near an exit could save a lot of hassle in the aftermath of a catastrophic blaze following which folk like insurers have to be contacted.

I’m overrunning myself here as there is a little more to go on the stage where the decision is made to make a sharp exit from a house on fire.

In a smoke-filled dwelling, navigation, even on familiar territory, can be difficult and confusing. One sensible measure is to keep access or escape routes clear of clutter. Any door secured with a lock and key on the inside should have either the key left in the lock (inside, of course!) or hung in a known place nearby.

At this stage of a incident, hollering “Fire! Fire!” as loud as you can play a vital part in raising the alarm – you would be surprised to learn how far the human voice can carry at times, more so when charged with a hefty dose of adrenalin.

The vast majority of domestic outbreaks have small beginnings. This means the signs of fire such as a smell of smoke, crackling noises or hot areas require urgent investigation – and that also goes for any whiff of gas.

In these circumstances a householder is faced with an early decision as to whether to call the fire service. My understanding is firefighters will never overtly criticise anyone who plays it safe and raises an alarm over a suspicion of fire – but they have some rather withering opinions about anyone who dithers and lets an easily-controllable blaze rapidly develop into a dangerous inferno.

At Pilgrim HQ we have battery-powered smoke detectors up and downstairs – although it now occurs to me I should replace them quite soon in order to maintain effectiveness. Somewhere in the kitchen a fire blanket lurks, waiting a time when I will mount it on a wall in a conspicuous place. I suppose a decent-sized fire extinguisher might be a good idea, so I had better place that on my to-do list.

Another significant fire-prevention move in older houses is to make sure the lum gets swept on a regular basis. We had a chimney fire at Pilgrim HQ a few years ago, caused by me forgetting to call the sweep at the right time (doh!), and it was no laughing matter. Little damage was done, but since then I make sure we get an annual visit from that nice Mr Redburn and his assistant, who make a very good job of a task I would dread doing myself.

I recall mentioning some years ago that when I was but a lad, my dad invested in a set of sweep’s brushes and on one Saturday in every summer he would do battle with the difficult chimney of our council house. Due to his language when the brush got stuck, my brother and sisters were despatched to a suitably-distant spot until it was all over, but watched with eager anticipation for the brush to emerge from the chimney pot, giving the signal that dad’s temperament would soon return to normal.

All in all, it cannot be seen as unreasonable to review our individual vulnerability to fire hazard. The results could be something of a shock to us all, but remedies are often possible at little or no cost as, in the main, they are a matter of simple common sense.

Should you bother? Try taking a look around your personal castle – there will be many items you treasure that you would hate to lose in a fire and in many cases class as irreplaceable.

Reason enough to check it all out sometime soon.

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