With Christmas just over a week away, homeowners are busy preparing their households, hanging new curtains, cleaning windows, and putting up Christmas trees and decorations.??

But, perhaps what can be considered the most important Christmas preparation is often overlooked ??? fire safety!

How safe is your home this Christmas season? Did you place your tree away from your television set? Have you checked the electrical wiring in your home or the tube on your gas bottle?

Most importantly, do you have a smoke alarm or fire extinguisher inside your home, or a family plan for emergency evacuation???If you answer ???no??? to one or all of these questions, then you are at risk of becoming a possible victim of a house fire.

Acting Chief Fire Officer with the Barbados Fire Service (BFS), Errol Maynard, stated that this year???s 16.25 per cent increase in house fires, strengthened the fact that the message of fire safety urgently needed to reach ???every alley, avenue, terrace, village, development and community across Barbados???.

A total of 80 house fires were recorded for 2013, while there are 93 on record so far for this year.??

???With each passing year, we remind you of the importance of adopting proper fire safety practices to ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and this year is no different, as we continue to urge persons to be ever mindful of the danger of fire and offer tips on how to avoid, and, in some cases eliminate, the chance of an emergency occurring,??? he said.

One area of particular concern for fire officials is persons leaving their stoves unattended ??? one of the main contributing factors to the spike in house fires across the island.

Mr. Maynard issued an appeal to the public to avoid going into the kitchen if they were tired, or under the influence of medication, legal or illegal drugs.??Station Officer with the BFS, Henderson Patrick, explained that some cases of persons leaving stoves unattended occurred in innocence.

???The person may put a saucepan on the stove to boil some water, or maybe to warm something, and then become distracted by getting involved in another task. They might go to the bathroom; they might go outside to put some clothes on the line???

“Just in that time frame they would have lost enough time so that a fire can really occur within that kitchen??? So we need people to pay attention to this, especially when they have open flames within the kitchen,??? he stated.

At the same time, close attention should also be paid to gas bottles, particularly those kept within the home. Ideally, fire officials would prefer that these bottles be stored on the outside, but the reality is that this may not always be possible.

Mr. Patrick, who also has responsibility for the Fire Prevention and Community Relations Unit of the BFS, said in such cases, gas bottles should not be enclosed, but kept well ventilated so leaks could be easily detected.

At the same time, special attention should also be given to the tubes attached from the gas bottle to the stove. The Station Officer explained that over time, heat from the stove caused the moisture to dry out of the tubes.

???When that happens, it becomes more brittle. It flares at the end, it cracks and it causes gas to leak,??? he pointed out. To avoid a potential disaster, one simple step is required ??? check regularly and change the tubes every four to five years.

Similarly, checks should also be done on the electrical wiring to homes. Mr. Patrick explained that during Barbados??? hot months in the early part of the year, the plastic and wiring became brittle and cracked.

When the rainy season started and water fell on those cracked wires, they became a conduit, causing them to short circuit. As a result, the BFS is advising persons whose homes were wired for over 20 years to have them examined by an electrician, so they could be made aware of any potential danger.

This festive season, fire officials are advising persons to avoid placing their Christmas trees near to a heat source such as the television set, or against overloading electrical circuits.

In addition, Mr. Patrick is cautioning members of the public against placing items such as laptops and cellular phones on the bed, especially when they are being charged. He explained that such devices generate heat, and if left unattended on a bed for an extended period of time, they could cause the combustible material to rise to a temperature where it could possibly ignite.

Another cause of fires which often goes over looked is the ???fad??? of children playing with matches and lighters. ???They are still fascinated by the flames as soon as they light, but they do not have the understanding of the harm that could come to them and to their property if they get involved with that behaviour,??? he reasoned.

However, the importance of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers within the home is being underscored by fire officials. ???Without them in your home and something happens, there is a build-up of smoke, mainly from cooking that you have left unattended or somebody smoking in your bed. You would have no idea that a fire has started. A smoke detector is your first mechanism for warning,??? stressed Sub Officer, Juanita Seale.

She explained that smoke detectors should be placed in rooms where there was a high level of occupancy, such as the living room, the bedroom and the landing of two- storey homes. Smoke detectors should be placed at least six to 10 feet away from the stoves in the kitchen.

But, while it is important to install smoke detectors in the home, it is equally critical that they must be in working order. Ms. Seale noted that the battery in smoke detectors should be checked monthly, and replaced annually, while the smoke detector itself should be replaced every 10 years.

However, in the event that a fire does occur, the Sub Officer stressed that a fire extinguisher could mean the difference between minor damage and major or a complete loss.

She noted that the ABC two-and-a-half pound extinguisher was usually recommended for households, particularly the kitchen area, to be used in the event of a small fire.

However, she also shared other tips, such as using baking soda to extinguish a grease fire. ???If you have a grease fire, baking soda is a basic ingredient of extinguishers???so if you are not scared, and you have a grease fire, you can sprinkle it on, cover the pan, turn the stove off and move the pan aside,??? she advised.

But, if all fire prevention methods fail and a fire starts, what next? An effective family plan that outlines roles and responsibilities of all members of the household is critical.

Fire officials explained that it was important that children be taught what they should do in the event of a fire; how they should get out of the house; where to go when they are outside; and who should be responsible for the younger children.??These plans should be tested as often as possible, especially during power outages.

No one wants to be the victim of a house fire, particularly at Christmas time, so let us all do our part by putting fire safety at the top of our to-do list and being fire smart!


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