Fire safety is an important aspect of home and workplace safety. A fire can break out anywhere and at any time because of unexpected causes such as a power overload, a short circuit, a kitchen accident or a lightning strike.
A total of 4,485 fires broke out in Singapore in 2012, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). Of this number, 71 per cent involved residential premises, and 13 per cent took place in commercial premises. The remaining 16 per cent were non-building fires and involved vegetation and vehicles.
In the event of a fire, it is the responsibility of every individual to stay safe.
Fire safety experts suggest you take the following steps to remain safe in a fire:
If you are the first to encounter the fire
- Don’t panic and call 995 for the SCDF.
- Alert others about the fire and get everyone out.
- If possible, close the door and shut the windows of the room where the fire is located to contain it. This ensures that the fire has a limited supply of fuel, heat and oxygen – essential components that keep a fire burning.
- Turn off the gas mains (if you can reach it).
- Get a fire extinguisher and try to put out the fire (if you can) but only do so without endangering yourself or others. To escape through smoke, stay as low as you can, face down and crawl on your hands and knees. Avoid moving through the centre of the room and stay close to the walls.
- When escaping, always use the stairs and head to ground level. If there is smoke in the stairwell, stay put. Don’t go higher.
If you are trapped by the fire and cannot leave the building
- Enter a safe room, preferably one with a window that overlooks a road.
- Shut the door behind you but don’t lock it. Cover the bottom gap of the door with a blanket or rug to prevent smoke from seeping through.
- If you have access to a phone, call 995 and inform the operator of your location, what is on fire and if there are others trapped with you.
- If you do not have access to a phone, shout for help from the window. Never attempt to climb out or jump out of the building. Wait patiently until help comes.
Basic fire prevention tips
Knowing how to react in a fire can help safeguard your life and those of your loved ones. But preventing the outbreak of a fire is your best protection. Here are some ways to eliminate fire hazards:
- Switch off all appliances and electrical outlets when not in use or before leaving your home.
- In the office, shut down your computer and turn off the power switch when you’re leaving for the day.
- Do not overload electrical outlets.
- Install smoke detectors in your home to alert you to the presence of smoke.
- Do not overcharge your mobile devices such as handphones and tablets by leaving them to charge overnight.
- Never store combustible items/materials near heat sources.
- Check for broken wires and exposed wiring and if you find any replace them.
- Properly extinguish cigarette butts before throwing them into the rubbish chute.
- Keep matches and lighters safely stowed away from children.
- Keep a 1-kg dry powder fire extinguisher in your bedroom in case of emergency.
- Purchase a smoke escape mask that can protect you from toxic smoke for up to 20 min.
– Alvin Chumari for Health Xchange, with expert input from Fire Specialist Rescue Centre Singapore.