Christmas – Fire Safety Check List for your Home
This year, make sure you have two Christmas lists – your Santa list and your fire safety checklist.
Christmas is a time where we all snuggle up in front of the fire, turn on some extra heating around the home, look forward to putting on our cozy pyjamas and of course hanging some festive decorations to get into the spirit of things. This time of the year can also expose our homes to more fire hazards than usual.
In Portugal the vast majorities of fires occur during lunch and diner when you switch on your kitchen appliances. But, and that’s a big one, the vast majorities of deaths and serious injuries occur during night time fires because that’s when you get caught off-guard.
So, this year, make sure you have two Christmas lists – your Santa list and your fire safety checklist.
We’ve compiled important safety tips for eight areas of your home environment that you can put into practice:
Many of us have probably already taken our electric blankets out of the cupboard this winter. It’s important you switch off your electric blanket before going to sleep. Only leave it turned on if it has thermostatic controls which are safe for all-night use. If any of the wires seem damaged or worn, replace the electric blanket.
To safe guard you and your home this Christmas make sure that you don’t:
- Overload your plug sockets.
- Plug an extension lead into another extension lead. Make sure to check the rating of your extension leads before use; most will be ‘13A’ which means it cannot handle more than 13 amps or 3000 watts of power at a time.
- Leave lamps and electrical appliances plugged in overnight.
Cooking is the source of a great number of house fires, with a lot of these occurring during the Christmas period. During this time of year, we’re all using our ovens and stoves more often. Pots and pans can very easily overheat if left unattended on the hob, so if you must leave the room, be sure to turn the heat off and move the pot or pan to a heat resistant surface. Remember to always keep the area around your cooker completely free from combustible items such as napkins, tea towels and food packaging when cooking.
In the event of a grease fire, never attempt to extinguish it with water. Water and oil don’t mix – the water will sink to the bottom of the pan and evaporate straight away whilst causing the burning grease to disperse and spread – instead use a fire blanket to smother the flames. If you don’t own a fire blanket buy one, its money well spent. You can also use a large cloth or damp blanket (not nylon or polyester based) as a last resort and cover the fire completely, eventually extinguishing it by the absence of oxygen.
Please see an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE08iOkXdMk
Fireplaces and chimneys
If you have an open fire be sure to have your chimney cleaned and inspected at least once a year. Ensure stoves and boilers are serviced regularly by a professional.
There are so many smells that we associate with Christmas; fresh fig, cinnamon, spiced quince, gingerbread and of course, Christmas trees! And it has become increasingly popular to use scented candles in our homes all year round. It’s very easy to forget to blow out candles, especially at night time. A simple alternative are LED tea lights.
However, if you must use real candles, make sure they fit securely into candleholders and keep them well away from anything flammable and at least 10 centimetres away from other candles.
Decorations, Lights & Christmas trees
A simple fire safety switch you can make during the festive period is to use LED Christmas lights rather than traditional lights for decoration around your home. Remember to never leave your Christmas tree lights plugged in when going to bed or leaving your home, even for a short time.
Make sure to avoid hanging decorations above or near to an open fire or stove. Keep your Christmas tree at least 1.2 meters/4 feet away from heat sources such as heaters, fires and candles.
If you have a real Christmas tree, keep it in a pot of water to stop it from drying out and becoming highly flammable. Try not to purchase a tree with brown needles, as these will fall out quickly and become a fire hazard.
If you purchase an artificial Christmas tree be sure it has a CE safety mark and is flame retardant. Only purchase lights that have the CE safety mark.
Cigarettes cause a vast number of all house fires. If you do smoke, try to do so outside because smoldering cigarette butts are extremely dangerous if left near flammable surfaces. Alternatively, keep some water in your ashtrays to ensure the cigarette butts are fully extinguished.
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
It’s so important that you have a smoke alarm on each floor of your home, and that you check them regularly. Every home should also have at least one fire extinguisher rated for all fire types (look for A-B-C rating on the label).
The latest fire extinguishers are the ABF Foam Fire Extinguishers, they give you the added advantage of keeping cleaning after the fire absolutely minimal. If you use a dry powder one you have to thoroughly clean after using them, including the interior of all electronics.
Please see an example: https://simplyextinguishers.co.uk/2-litre-abf-foam-fire-extinguisher.html
If you have a fuel-burning appliance, including an open fire – make sure to have a carbon monoxide alarm installed. You should have one in every room that contains a stove or open fire.
Make sure to keep lighters and matches well out of reach of children and teach them about fire safety.
Create a safety and escape plan for the family to follow in the event of a fire. Make sure that family members know how to use a fire extinguisher and fire blanket.
Prepared by Pedro Taboada
Former Bombeiros Commander and currently Adviser to Safe Communities Portugal