Are you in the habit of turning on the gas before you light your stove, or storing your gas bottle in a cupboard? Perhaps you charge your cell phone and laptop in your bed, or turn off your fan but leave it plugged in? And what about your extension cord, when did you last change it?
These are common practices often overlooked in the home, but for officers in the Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement Unit (FP&CEU) at the Barbados Fire Service (BFS), these are all common causes of most residential fires across Barbados.
“There are so many errors that people make that we don’t even think about,” Fire and Life Safety Officer in the FP&CEU, Natasha Forde, said during an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service.
Many of those mistakes are made in the kitchen, with the practice of persons lighting the stove by turning on the gas first, topping the list.
“You should never ever turn the gas on first. If you turn the gas on and somebody distracts you, then it means that is gas accumulating inside the area and from the time there is a spark, you would realise there is a little poof,” she said.
Rather, when lighting a stove, the match should be lit before the gas or ignition switch is turned on, Ms. Forde advised.
The Fire Officer added that another common mistake made was storing gas bottles inside of a cupboard. “That is a definite ‘no, no’…. The danger of it is that you may not be able to smell it [the gas] right away,” she said.
The Fire and Life Safety Officer explained that this practice could lead to undetected gas accumulating inside the cupboards due to cracks in the hose line, and missing possible faults early with the gas head.
As a safety precaution, she said gas bottle heads should be changed every five years, while the hose should be changed every two years. When purchasing gas bottles, buyers should ensure that they have no bounces or rusty canisters.
Extinguishing grease fires was also identified as another area of concern for the Fire Officer, who explained that people tended to panic when a sauce pan or frying pan caught afire.
“The natural thing is once persons see fire, they instinctively think water. But, if you have hot oil that is something that you do not want to do because in throwing the water on the hot oil, you are causing fire spread. Water and oil do not mix,” Ms. Forde stressed.
Her advice was for persons not to panic; turn off the stove to kill the fuel; and cover the frying pan or saucepan to smother the flames.
Another alternative, she said, was to use a wet kitchen towel with the excess water squeezed out, and place it over the burning frying pan or saucepan. “But to err on the side of caution, try to have a fire blanket within the kitchen,” she advised.
Ms. Forde also explained that grease fires resulting from a build-up of grease in the oven or in hoods, especially those operated by restaurants, was another mistake that was made daily.
She further advised persons to clean their ovens and hoods regularly as thick build-ups of grease only required the right spark to start a fire.
However, the kitchen is not the only area of concern for the Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement Unit of the BFS.
Fire and Life Safety Officer, Jason Collins, listed the use of extension cords, cellular phones and laptops in beds, and improper use of household fans, as other potential fire hazards.
“The first thing about an extension cord is that they are not supposed to be used constantly. You are only to use them temporarily, and you should not have an extension cord that is plugged in and being used 24/7 for years within your house,” he pointed out, noting that they should be used for a maximum of four months, and should never be placed under the carpet.
Mr. Collins stated that charging devices in a bed, especially overnight, were dangerous practices which could lead to overheating and a potential fire.
He stressed that devices such as laptops should never be charged in a bed, especially if they are not attached to a cooling fan.
“The bottom of the laptop becomes fairly hot and overheating can occur. It carries air vents at the bottom that allow for the flow of air to the laptop to cool it. But, if you have it on the bed, the sheet blocks those vents, therefore, not allowing the components within it to cool as it should,” the Fire and Life Safety Officer pointed out.
Similarly, he noted that the habit of charging a cellular phone overnight could result in the elements in the device breaking down, resulting in it overheating. He advised homeowners to unplug the device from the charger, and remove the latter from the wall plug.
The Fire and Life Safety Officers urged persons to be careful and ensure that they check the cables on their appliances and electronic devices on a regular and consistent basis.
According to statistics from the Barbados Fire Service, there has been a 24 per cent increase in residential fires for 2020, with the 2019 figures standing at 61, compared with 67 recorded between January 1 and November 1, this year.
The main causes of these fires were identified as electrical short circuits, unattended stoves, electrical fans, the burning of rubbish or grass, which got out of control, and arson.