Ensuring fire safety in your home

Wednesday February 6 2019

Traders go through a rubble after a fire

Traders go through a rubble after a fire recently. Experts believe most fires are due to preventable causes. Photo by TAUSI NAKATO 

By Dorcus Murungi

For most people, a home is a one-time asset containing their most valuable properties. It is an accomplishment that some people look up to and feel proud of their efforts. However, of recent, fires have turned into a major destruction to homes. These fires not only destroy property, but lives as well. Have you put in place measures to prevent fire outbreaks in your home? Or do you even know what causes these rampant fires?
According to John Bosco Tukwasibwe of Booth Fire Services Uganda, it is prudent to ensure the security of a home and family from destructive elements such as fire. But on a sad note, he observes that many fires in homes are due to carelessness or negligence.
“Many people have lost their lives and others have lost valuable home assets because of a fire that originated from a candle that they left burning in a home, what type of negligence is this,” he says, adding that other people have lost their children because of leaving them alone in the house with flammable equipment.
Tukwasibwe says it is important for home owners to avoid acts of negligence, which are a major cause of fire outbreaks. We share some of the small but hazardous mistakes that have led to fire outbreaks in a home.

Jocelyne Musimenta, a resident of Kinawataka, a Kampala suburb, says she almost found her house on fire one afternoon when her two daughters attempted to burn papers inside her kitchen using a lighter she had discarded negligently.
“I returned abruptly only to find a huge fire in the kitchen, my children were watching with a lot of excitement like they were experimenting something, the fire was very wild and would have spread to other items had I not arrived early enough,” she recalls.

Cooking unattended to
Godfrey Etyang of Fire Masters Uganda Limited, says many home fires begin in the kitchen. He adds that it is always best to be cautious and exercise care in attending to areas that are prone to fire accidents, especially the kitchen.
“Always keep your charcoal stove in close watch, especially if you are frying something because things can cross the line in mere seconds. It is one of the simplest fire safety tips, but it is also the leading cause of kitchen fires,” he says.

Leaving candles on
Tukwasibwe observes that candles have been one of the major sources of fires in a home. He says whenever it is burning out, there is a big possibility of them spreading into a big fire.

Flammable items
Etyang says some home owners leave flammable items unattended to yet these can cause fire.
“Some people leave their gas not fully turned off, some home owners who have househelps don’t train them on how to effectively use the gas cookers,” he points out.
He notes that it is essential to know of ways and means to keep your house safe from fires.
Here are some of the fire safety measures that could help you save lives and property.

Have an escape plan
Etyang says it is vital for every home to have an escape plan for each room making the bedrooms top priority.
“This escape plan will help eliminate panic in an emergency situation. Endeavour to rehearse this with the children because when they don’t rehearse, they may hide under a bed or in a closet in case of a fire outbreak hence reducing their chance of survival,” he explains.
Additionally, Etyang says one can designate a window as a secondary exit. He says this should completely be unobstructed and easily opened by children and the elderly. “For those who have homes that have more than one floor, keep a Fire Escape Ladder stored close by. Practice using them so everyone is familiar with them,” he advises.

Keep lighters out of reach of children
Musiimenta says children are most times fascinated by fire, and observes that curiosity can get dangerous.
“Keep temptation in control by hiding matches and lighters, if possible keep them locked away,” she advises.

Keep an eye on potential fire hazards
She adds that it is important to keep an eye on potential fire hazards.
“Look for things like tattered or torn strings on electrical devices such as televisions, stereo systems, lamps or computers. Watch out for heaters that are too close to flammable items such as clothing, fabric, books, magazines or old newspapers,” she advises.
Musiimenta adds that it is important to exercise caution when using, placing or lighting candles. She says candles can easily allow other things to catch fire if you are not careful.
“If it is possible, avoid using candles in your home and if you are to have them, have proper candle holders,” she says.

Unplug electronic devices
According to Tukwasibwe, it is important to avoid electrical fires by always unplugging all electronic devices and appliances after use. He says plugged-in appliances and electronic devices are fire hazards.

Teach children about fire precautions
Musiimenta says it is important to teach children about the hazards of fire and ensure they are aware of fire safety rules. “Ever since my children’s incident of playing with fire lighters, I made sure to teach them about fire safety methods for their wellbeing,” she says.

Install fire extinguishers and know how to use them
Tukwasibwe says having fire extinguishers in your home and knowing how to use them is a crucial part of your home’s emergency plan.
“While it can be tempting to use an extinguisher for any fire in your home, you have to be aware of the fact that they should only be used for fires that are small and contained,” he advises.
Sharifa Nantongo, a civil engineer with KENA International limited, says home owners must have a house plan that provides for fire outbreaks. She advises those who have burglar-proofs to have an exit route in their houses. “Though it is important to mind about robbers, also think about your safety [in case of a fire] while making a plan for your house,” she says.

How to use a fire extinguisher

In as much as a fire extinguisher is important in fighting a fire, it is important that that those who have the facility know how best to use it.

Back to exit
Godfrey Etyang says when using a fire extinguisher, one should keep their back toward the exit at all times so that they are in position to know where it is so that they do not get to turn around or disoriented should things get worse.
He adds that they should keep a proper distance of about six to eight feet.
Keep distance
Before discharging the extinguisher, he advises that they should move away from the fire.
When extingusihing
Etyang says it is safe to move closer once you start extinguishing the fire and the flames begin to die down.

Fire-resistant building materials
In a bid to control fires from destroying buildings, there are building materials that have been designed to contain fires.
Taha Khambati of Zahabiya chemical Industries, says Zahabia Flamex X FRX-10/65, is a chemical that people who are constructing should use to help resist fire in case of a fire outbreak.
He says the chemical is a high performance, intumescent flame retardant coating, which can be applied on various kinds of substrates including combustible cellulosic materials such as wood, MDF sheets, and plywood sheets and others.
He also explains that this product can be applied on other construction materials for instance concrete, plastered surfaces, steel reinforcements and gypsum boards to increase their fire resistance properties. “On exposure to direct flame, this intumescent coating swells many times of its original thickness, creating a flame retardant and fire resistive barrier between the fire and the substrate,” he observes.
Khambati says this chemical can best be applied in areas of the building, which are highly flammable for instance, the kitchen or storage areas since it can contain fire for two hours and more.
According to Anania Atuhumurize, an architect with Excite Construction Company, the key in containing fires is to construct a building in which a fire would take effect slowly. “Consequently, it is not a question of whether a fire can damage a structure, but a question of when. It simply takes longer for fire to affect fire-resistant materials,” he says adding that if the building materials used have the capacity to hold fire for some time, this allows the occupants plenty of time to escape.
“When buying building materials, try hard to find out about their rating in fire resistance. Most building materials are rated in respect to how long it would take fire to affect its structural abilities,” he adds.
Atuhumurize explains that these materials are described using terms like noncombustible, non-flammable or ignition-resistant materials.
According to architectureau.com, flammable cladding is believed to have contributed to the spread of the Grenfell tower fire in London in 2017. It is important to find out if the building material you are using is flammable.

Atuhumurize explains that concrete is a non-combustible and has low thermal conductivity. With concrete, fire takes long to affect its structural load bearing ability.
“Concrete is often listed as among the best fire-resistant roofing materials, too. And you should not overlook the roof as essential in fire-protection, since it is extremely vulnerable to sparks blown from wild fire,” he says.

Hasfa Nantongo, a civil Engineer, says structural materials will require underlying gypsum sheathing in order to achieve a good fire-resistant rating. She adds that gypsum board is the most commonly used fire-resistant interior finish.

Nantongo adds that bricks are commonly cited as among the best building materials for fire protection. “Depending on the construction and thickness of the wall, a brick wall can achieve a 1-hour to 4-hour fire-resistance rating,” she says.

What to do in case of a fire outbreak
Get out, don’t turn back: Godfrey Etyang of Fire Masters, says in case of a fire outbreak, get you and your family out of the fire and avoid turning back to pick anything. He says many times people die in fires because of going back to pick things they consider valuable.

Check for smoke before using door: Etyang says it is not advisable to go through the door if there is smoke on the side of the door. “Don’t go through the door if you see smoke coming under it because wherever there is smoke, fire is expected to follow,” he says. However, he says if there is no smoke coming beneath the door, one should carefully check the door handle to ascertain if it has no heat before they use it for exit.

Keep low: According to John Bosco Tukwasibwe of Booth Fire services Uganda, in case smoke fills up the bigger part of the house, it is important that one keeps low to avoid inhaling big volumes of smoke. “If there is smoke in the air, stay low, close to the ground, especially your head, to reduce inhalation of smoke and if possible crawl to the nearest exit.”

Shut doors after escape: After successfully moving out, Tukwasibwe advises that people should shut all doors behind them on their way out.

No lifts: He advises people against using lifts during fire outbreaks.

Crawl if clothes catch fire: Tukwasibwe advises people not to run if fire catches their clothes. “Running will make the fire spread faster, so in case this happens, instead lie down and try to escape by crawling.”