Although we can do our utmost to prevent fires from happening by isolating the sources of heat from combustibles and oxygen, it is often the unexpected event that catches us unawares.
Sometimes, forgetfulness can result in an accidental fire. Putting a kettle to boil water on a gas stove and forgetting about it can be disastrous. When all the water has evaporated, the kettle becomes red hot, melt and spread the molten metal around.
LP gas leaks are also dangerous. If the fuel-air mixture is in just the right proportion, an explosion can occur when a heat source is introduced in. Many accidents have occurred when a light is switched on in an explosive environment. The correct thing to do then is to free the room of any gas by shutting off the source of the gas and letting in more fresh air into the room.
Chemical reactions can also cause heat and fire. Mixing acids and alkalis, mixing components of some household glue like epoxy resins and hardeners can generate quite a substantial amount of heat that can lead to fires. The containers used and the amount of chemical used can have a great effect on the heat produced. Plastic containers are known to melt and burn when large quantities of thermosetting plastics like epoxies are mixed with hardeners.
Fires are also known to be started by the careless smokers who throw lighted cigarette butts indiscriminately. Many bush fires are started this way. Some areas are especially vulnerable to careless acts like these. People working in the garage at home should be very careful not to cause a fire, especially with open petrol cans and other volatile fuels around them. Sometimes, smokers fall asleep while smoking, and their bed or sofa catches fire. The rubber foam mattress used for bedding can catch fire easily.
Although most electrical equipment is quite safe as far as fire is concerned, the use of sub-standard and poorly designed equipment may give rise to overheating and fires. Carelessness in the area of electrical appliances can cause fires as well as electrical shocks. Many households use multiple power points because they have many electrical equipment that must be used at the same time. Videos, television, fans, radios, and fancy lights may occupy only one electrical socket. When a multiple adapter is used, usually the connection pins cannot be fitted very tightly. The loose power connections are a source of sparking and deterioration of the insulation materials and can lead to fires.
This will be worst if high powered appliances are used because the electrical current drawn from these will be very much higher and so the wires and connections gets hotter.
Since we know that all the three conditions of heat, fuel and oxygen must be present in order for a fire to start; our basic fire prevention strategy must be to keep them isolated from each other. Heat sources must be kept away from combustible materials and if possible, from oxygen.
We should take a critical look at all the sources of heat in the home. They are the potential fire hazards. It is good to make an audit of our own homes and make a list, or at least be aware of all the heat sources in the home. Electrical wiring, appliances, gas stoves, kerosene lamps, candles, electrical light bulbs, ovens, electrical kettles, barbecue fires, burning garden refuse, and so on, are some of them. Even spells of dry weather should be looked at with vigilance.
The sources of heat are many. Below are some of the sources of heat that we have to exercise caution, so that we can be especially careful not to let them come into contact with combustibles:
· Kitchen Gas Appliances – The normal appliances in the kitchen are the gas stoves, and the kerosene stoves. These are normally safe, efficient and seldom gives trouble. However, the conditions of the kitchen stoves are often spoilt by spillage of soups, gravies, and other food materials from the cooking processes. After a long time of use, and especially with cooks who do not take special precautions, the gas stove become blackened with carbon, oil and other debris. Gas orifices and nozzles get choked up. Carbon deposits pile up. The carbon deposits become its other source of fuel. The soot fire can burn if it is heated long enough.
The environment in a busy kitchen can make it a fire risk. Gas hoses are especially prone to deteriorate if the material used can be attacked by the presence of oil. Cooking oil is ever present in the kitchen environment. Hoses coated by a layer of oil will produce leaks. Any leak in the gas hoses is dangerous. It can shoot flames of fire all around the place uncontrollably and spread the fire.
Do a regular check on your gas hoses and service your gas stove regularly.
· Electrical Installations and Appliances – Mains electrical wiring and their components can be a hidden source of heat that can cause a fire. Sometimes, due to loose contacts in the terminals of electrical switchboxes, some sparking will occur. If this is not found out early and rectified, the sparking will become worse, and the heat produced becomes more. Carbonization of the insulation materials will occur. Once the carbon gets deposited on the insulation materials, it becomes a conductor of electricity. Short-circuiting of the electrical wiring will occur leading to overheating of the wiring. If the electrical protection devices do not work, the overheating will cause the insulation materials of the wiring to even melt or decompose. When the decomposition gases given out by the insulation materials catch fire, the whole house can be burnt down.
Do a regular check up of your electrical wiring in your house, and quickly call in a qualified electrician to rectify any fault.
Electrical appliances also have to be used properly. When people modify equipment indiscriminately, sometimes they leave out or bypass certain safety features put in by the manufacturer. Appliances can become overheated and cause burning. It is better not to do any modification unless you know what you are doing.
Do not do bypass any safety feature in any electrical appliance.
· Burning of candles, garden refuse, incense, mosquito coils and other open burning – The sources of heat is quite obvious. When we do any open burning, make sure that the source of heat is not able to reach other surrounding materials. It is good practice to clear the area before doing open burning. We must also think about how to control the fire if it gets too big. Be ready to dose the fire with water if it gets too big.
We know that we need a source of heat, a fuel, and oxygen in order to have a fire. Other than looking at all the places where we encounter sources of heat, it is good preventive practice to store easily combustible materials safely. Some materials do not need a lot of heat in order to ignite, while some materials can be kept at quite high temperatures without any fire occurring. We need to identify the easily combustible materials and keep them out of harms way.
Some materials in the home are known to be easily combustible. It is advisable to store these materials in a cool and isolated place away from the house if possible. Should a fire occur by any chance, they will have less opportunity to spread. Below are a list of commonly used inflammable materials in the home. However, the list is not exhaustible:
· Paints, turpentine, spirit, aerosols for spray paints.
· Kerosene, petrol, diesel, and other oils used for fuel.
· Aerosols used for pesticides
· Paper and wood, especially when dry
· Vegetable oils used in cooking
· Other solvents like nail polish
There are other materials that can catch fire if brought to a source of heat. Some of them are listed below. The best way to handle these is to do regular house cleaning to remove them:
· Loose organic dust like sawdust, cotton dust, woolen dust
· Oily deposits from the atmosphere
· Dust and deposits from insects
Sometimes, even though we have taken all the precautions, fires can still come from a neighbor’s house. Sometimes, it can even come from the sky in the form of fireworks! Sometimes the sparks from a neighbor’s rubbish fire can fly over to your own home and cause a fire.
So it is simply not enough that you alone know how to prevent fires. The people around you should also know about fire prevention.
Everybody needs to be educated in fire prevention. When a fire happens in the neighborhood, there is a very real possibility that the fire can spread to the surrounding houses. It is essential that no fires at all start in any of the houses in the neighborhood or even the community.
When everyone understands the grave consequences of their actions, the fire risk becomes more manageable.
Children are especially high potential fire starters if they are not taught about the risks. With their natural curiosity, playing with fire comes naturally to them at some point in their life. Adults have the responsibility to impart the knowledge of fire prevention and the consequences of fire to them quite early in their growing up years.
In order for adults to have this knowledge themselves, the relevant authorities should organize courses on fire safety and fire safety awareness campaigns. The media, including newspapers, magazines, television and radio, has an important role to play in getting the message of fire prevention to the general public. Their message should be able to reach the masses and ingrain in them the importance of fire prevention.
The message of fire prevention should be delivered continuously over a long period of time. A fire safety campaign should only be considered successful when people considers fire prevention a natural thing to do. It must become habit and a daily way of life. Then only can lives and properties be secured.
The knowledge of fire prevention is even more important than fire detection and fire fighting. If a fire does not start, or is prevented from starting, there is no longer any need for fire detection and fire fighting. Everybody should be preventing fires even before it can start.
Is prevention enough?
Sometimes, we have done the best we can. We have isolated the sources of heat. We have stored away inflammable materials away from sources of heat. We have done whatever we can to the best of our knowledge.
Can a fire still start?
Incidents of fire can still happen. For example, a mouse in your house may decide to chew on your highly powered electrical wires, or a lizard may managed to crawl into your electrical switchboard and cause a short circuit, or the hot weather may cause the weeds and bushes around your house to catch fire.
So while steps taken for the prevention of fires will keep us safe most of the time, it is also good to be prepared in case a fire still starts despite our actions.
There are portable smoke detectors available in the market for those who want to have an early warning when a fire starts. This can in fact be considered prevention too – preventing a large fire. These smoke detectors will be able to alert the occupants about any small fires so that it can be put off before it becomes large and unmanageable. It can prevent loss of property and lives. Any fires detected early have a very good chance of being extinguished.
It is also good to keep a portable fire extinguisher at home for the purpose of putting out small fires. For the home, the most suitable portable fire extinguisher to keep is a dry powder extinguisher because it will be able to handle all the likely classes of fires found in the home. It can be used to put out fires involving solid materials like wood and paper, oils and even electrical fires without the risk of electrical shocks.
In conclusion, when we are able to instill awareness of fire prevention to all the people around us, we will have won the battle with fire. Fire becomes our ally and we can tap its benefits without worrying about its consequences.
Fire becomes our friend and not our foe.