Watching Makerere University main building go up in big devilish flames on September 20 got me wondering what I would do if my house caught fire. It also got me wondering if homeowners invest enough in fire safety equipment and general preparedness in case of a fire outbreak. I didn’t have all the answers, so I asked the experts.
Joseph Mugisa, the director Police Fire Prevention and Rescue Services, says raising an alarm is the most important thing you should do first—to alert everyone around of the danger.
“Then, attack the fire if you can, by pouring water on that burning mattress or if the fire is from an appliance, isolate the fire by switching off the power supply from the main switch. But that only works when it is safe to do so. Otherwise, vacate the house that has caught fire as you alert police (simultaneously; don’t wait after failing).
Mugisha shares that his department handles more residential fires than in those commercial or public places. Actually, about 75 percent of the fires are residential fires.
“It’s just that most are usually small and we manage to contain them. That’s why most are not reported. But they happen on a daily basis,” he says.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that many homeowners hardly think of firebreak precautions when constructing their homes.
Abubaker Byakika, a civil engineer, says only about about three per cent think about fire safety while building homes.
“They only consider it when building hotels, schools or hospitals because it is a requirement. Most see it as if you are asking them to establish a pharmacy at home because they might need drugs. They don’t appreciate the necessity,” Byakika says.
Spots to watch
Mugisa says most house fires are caused by electrical appliances like TVs, andflat irons that are left unattended to when they catch fire due to overheating. Unsafe cooking practices like using charcoal stoves, especially in spaces cluttered with paper, wood, paraffin, and the like also cause fire.
Have an emergency exit, which locks from inside but does not require a key to unlock. Such as one that uses locking bolts, such that in case of a fire, you can easily flee the house, instead of fidgeting with the keys.
Government should adopt a policy whereby before a residential house is occupied, it must meet certain fire safety standards (as is the case for hotels, schools and hospitals).
Ensure your kitchen is separated from other rooms by a wall.
Wiring should be done by a competent and qualified electrician. All power should move in conduits and if it must cross buildings it must be well-insulated. Also, ensure every switch has a circuit breaker— which automatically switches off in case of a fire threat.
Some building materials and furniture can be deadly fire conductors. Given thorough finishing, wood can resist fire for some time. Otherwise, it should be avoided.
Insist on using permanent materials like bricks, cement instead of plastic, and papyrus, among others.
Those spaces between the door and the floor, or between the wall tops and the roof can aid the fire to spread very quickly from one room to another. So avoid them.
That carpet makes your floor look fancy but in case of fire, it joins the enemy and acts as fuel.
Ironing is better done outside, like on the veranda, or in the sitting room, where it is more open.
Disconnect all the electrical appliances like fridges, cookers, etc, before you go to sleep.
Keep matchboxes and lighters away from the reach of children. Likewise, don’t let your child (aged 5 to 8) use kitchen appliances.
Totally avoid paraffin wax candles because they are deadly; find a better alternative.
And always keep something ready to respond to a fire. That bucket of water or sand might be your saviour.