FIRE! FIRE! Managing a fire outbreak

It is hard to forget the chilling incidents of the many fire disasters witnessed in the country in the recent past. The September 12, 2011 Sinai slums fire in Nairobi

  • PublishedApril 30, 2013

It is hard to forget the chilling incidents of the many fire disasters witnessed in the country in the recent past. The September 12, 2011 Sinai slums fire in Nairobi will forever remain in our minds. The slum is apparently built on both sides of a petroleum pipeline on the railway reserve and under high voltage electric cables. On this fateful day, more than 100 people were burnt to death and scores of others hospitalized following a petrol fire that broke out in the slum.

In 2009, there was a fire tragedy at Sachang’wan when a petrol tanker full of petrol rolled and fire broke out as people had gathered as spectators or petrol thieves. The fire claimed over 100 lives. We cannot also forget the fire tragedy at Nakumatt supermarket in downtown Nairobi a few years back, where many lives were lost.

The story of a mother and her four children whose lives were cut short by a fire at a village in Nyeri is still fresh in our minds. A newly wed couple lost their lives in Nairobi when their gas cooker exploded in the house a few days after their honeymoon. Recently in Kasarani, Nairobi, a mother lost two children who were alone in the house when a fire started. The elder child – about seven years old was lighting a stove to warm food when the stove exploded causing a huge fire in the house and also destroyed property worth thousands of shillings in neighbouring homes.

These are just a few cases of fire disasters that occur once in a while and it is such events that leave many wondering if the country is able to handle such disasters. According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), the increase in the incidences of fire in the country since 2009 is attributed to various factors including human error and carelessness, overcrowding in informal settlements, lack of access roads and fire fighting services, among others.

In one of their reports released in 2011, they had documented 26 fires in Nairobi slums alone, noting that chances of fires in homes in Nairobi’s slums and informal settlements is high because of the poor quality of construction of the homes and the materials used, the overcrowded conditions and haphazard electricity connections can increase risk of fires.

According to the Kenya National Disaster Operational Centre, at least 110 fire incidents and destruction of homes have been reported since 2011. These numbers continue to increase.  Ken (not his real name), a staff with the KK Security who spoke on condition we don’t identify him because he is not allowed to speak for the company shared that the KK security group has in many cases responded to alarmed citizens involved in disasters such as fire. The company charges for their services if you are not an existing subscriber. “If you cannot raise the fee, it becomes impossible to offer our services,” he says. With these kinds of odds, the best bet to keeping yourself safe from fires is prevention. In this article, we seek to highlight some causes of fires in homes or offices and practical ways of preventing them.

Household fires…

The kitchen stove can be a health hazard if mishandled. This can happen if it is left unattended when cooking and can pose danger to young children who may want to discover more about it. You should ensure that all electric cords, curtains, towels or even clothes are at a safe distance from the stove.

Fires can occur due to faulty wiring and thus it is crucial to have a qualified electrician handle wiring in your house or office. Additionally, cigarette smoking is dangerous if handled carelessly as the tiny embers from the cigarette can smoulder on inflammable material in the house, go unnoticed and burst into flames much later, causing a huge fire.

Flammable liquids such as petrol, kerosene or even methylated spirits can also cause fires if mishandled. Keep them in a safe place away from heat and children and also use them with caution. Unattended candles are also known to cause fires. This is particularly so, if there are flammable items near the burning candles which can easily catch a fire.

Ensuring safety in your house…

Accidents are inevitable, especially at home and the best thing is to be prepared to handle them. A home needs to be secure. Statistics indicate that incorrect fitting of electrical devices triggers most household fires. You should ensure that there are no untied electric cords or plugs in the house. Also, avoid  overloading plugs with household appliances like the computers, television or the excess use of extension cords. Another safety measure is ensuring that all electrical appliances are working properly while unplugging the electronic appliances or putting them off when not in use.

You should inspect your home regularly and report any electrical faults to a qualified electrician or to Kenya Power Company (KPC) if it affects their supply connections such as meter boards. Check your lighting to ensure that the bulbs have proper wattage as well as repair any damaged electrical devices, especially if they smell odd, overheat or spark. You should however, avoid fixing electrical faults on your own, especially if you do not have the expertise to do so. Of importance is to seal any unused sockets to protect children from playing with them.

When it comes to use of electrical blankets, be extra careful and avoid putting electrical wires under rugs or carpets as these can easily cause a fire if tampered with. Keep night-lights or lamps away from bedding, drapery or any fabric. Children should be supervised at all times and they should not be left unattended near fires such as Jikos, gas cylinders or even heaters.

Also never leave an open fire when you leave the house, go to bed or run an errand, no matter how short you think the distance is. Briefing your baby sitter or house help on how to operate all appliances in the house to avoid any accident as a result of mishandling them is of utmost importance. Use candles wisely by ensuring that they are supported well by a candleholder to avoid falling. Keep them away from drapery or anything flammable and blow them out before sleeping or leaving the house.

Being in control…

You can keep your home safe by acquiring basic skills to handle a fire outbreak. Some of the skills include:

Following guidelines from the manufacturers and making sure you inspect them frequently. If possible, buy a fire extinguisher for your home and show your family how to use it in case of an emergency. Check for fire hazards around your home and leave nothing to chance. Since children generally like exploring, keep all dangerous items such as lighters or matchboxes locked away from their reach.

It is important to have the guidelines on the steps one should follow in case of a fire, hang on the extinguisher or exit door. You could hang an extra one on the fridge or kitchen door in the house, as most fires in a home start from the kitchen. Make the guidelines legible and brief to the point, since the last thing one would do incase of a fire outbreak is to spend time reading these guidelines. Make sure the guidelines are placed in a strategic place.

As a precaution teach everyone in the house or office how to detect the smell of smoke, flames or loud hisses. Don’t forget to teach children fire safety rules. This will ensure their safety in case of a fire outbreak. Not all fires can be fought using a fire extinguisher, so it is critical to know the nature of the fire and how to handle it. Sometimes one may make maters worse by using an incorrect way to put out a fire.

Since most fires start in the kitchen, keep all kitchen towels away from the cooker as they can catch fire easily. Check your surrounding while cooking to safeguard against fires. Do not burn waste near your home or fence as it may lead to a huge fire. One of the best ways to handle a fire is to act quickly. If you have a fire alarm, switch it on and then alert the fire department if you have their numbers. You could also alert your security company if you have one and the police. Get out of the place as fast as possible. Establish a way out in case of an  emergency.

Teach everyone how to exit in time, as safety is paramount. Avoid putting heavy metal burglar proofing on your windows and doors as it may block people from escaping in case of a fire.

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