Fire is a pervasive hazard in Australia. It’s a country prone to fire incidents, be it due to natural causes like bushfires, or accidental ones like electrical fires. These incidents often leave a trail of devastation in their wake. According to the World Fire Statistics Bulletin, fire causes an estimated 100 fatalities and over 3,000 injuries per year in Australia.
Due to Australia’s mostly hot and dry climate, bushfires are common during the hotter months of the year. However, accidental fires are more common in winter. According to the Department of Fire & Emergency Services, firefighters attend more accidental house fires in August than any other month. This is due to the increased use of heaters, open fires and electric blankets.
Mistakes can create fires, but more importantly mistakes during fires can lead to injury or death. Most fire deaths are preventable and occur when people make these critical mistakes.
1. Overestimation of time
People sometimes overestimate the time they have during a fire, and they end up delaying their escape from the property. They feel the need to check the property to find the source of fire, thinking they can put it out. They make bleak and ineffective attempts at controlling the flame. They go to each room to save their belongings or search for their pets.
Escape the property immediately if you detect signs of fire like smoke, or if you’re triggered by a fire protection system like a smoke detector. Once you’re out of the property, call the fire brigade to report the emergency. Don’t look for the source of fire, let the trained and equipped firefighters do it for you.
2. Rescue heroism
Some who manage to escape a fire feel the need to run back inside once they realise there are people still in the property, or they try to save their pets or precious possessions. It’s best to leave the rescuing to the firefighters who are far better trained, experienced and equipped to handle the situation.
3. Overcome by panic
Some who are awakened by a fire while sleeping tend to panic and run to the door, only to be greeted by flames and smoke. Fires around the bedroom or lounge room areas account for 73% of all house fire fatalities, mainly because heat sources have been left unattended.
If you’re awakened by a fire, try to keep calm and feel the bedroom door for heat using the back of your hand. If it feels hot, don’t open it. Instead, look for towels or sheets to cover the gap at the bottom of the door to prevent smoke from coming in. Then try to go to the nearest window and if possible, escape through it. If not, try to send signals to those outside or the firefighters.
If you’re in a high rise with elevators, don’t run to the elevator to escape. Carefully but swiftly make your way to the emergency exit.
4. Underestimation of smoke
People tend to misjudge the deadliness of smoke in a fire. Most fire fatalities – approximately 50-80% – are caused by smoke inhalation and toxic gases, not burns. Smoke has the ability to instantly debilitate, overwhelming people and stopping them from making it to an otherwise reachable exit.
If there’s no other escape route other than through the smoke, try to cover your nose and mouth with wet fabric and crawl towards the nearest exit.
5. Disarmed smoke detector
Too often people turn off or remove batteries from their smoke detectors because they think nothing bad will happen. Smoke detectors must be placed next to sleeping rooms and the batteries must be changed every 6 months.
According to the Melbourne Fire Brigade, the risk of death in a house fire quadruples without a working smoke alarm, that’s why it’s important to ensure your home’s smoke detectors are tested regularly. Professional smoke detector testers conduct smoke simulation testing of your domestic smoke detectors. This testing must be in compliance with the Fire Standards from the BCA (Building Code of Australia).
Whether you’re at home or in the office, it’s always important to review and practice your escape from a fire. It isn’t enough to just have a fire escape plan, so contact your local fire authority for guidance. After all, fire safety is nothing to mess around with.