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Upgrading Fire Safety in Your Flat

Some fire safety tips that flat dwellers can use to improve fire safety at home.

First and foremost, we should all strive to prevent fires from starting. Fire Brigades around the country offer fire safety advice through their websites, and many will be happy to pay a visit to anybody that’s particularly vulnerable to the effects of fire.

This page at Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is noteworthy because it has basic home fire safety advice leaflets in 24 languages:

If you live in a regular house on a typical street, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be impacted by a fire in a dwelling below yours because there isn’t one. Living in a flat inside a larger building that you’re sharing with others has some fire safety implications. Heat rises and fire travels vertically, so if you live in a block of flats your home may be affected by fire in somebody else's home. If this happens, or you are in fear of it happening, or if you feel unsafe, providing it is safe to do so, you can leave the building using the fire escape.

Also when there’s a fire inside a house most of the fumes and smoke escape to fresh air, in a block of flats some of these toxic fumes and smoke can travel inside the building and, in a worst-case scenario, make common areas and escape routes impossible to use. Some of the most dangerous fumes are invisible and odourless and may travel unseen to different parts of the building.

The number of fires that happen in dwellings of all types is falling and has been going down for a number of years. One crucial element of this improvement is the prevalence of smoke alarms in homes that will detect smoke or heat and raise the alarm. An obvious way to improve the way fire and smoke are detected is to have a detector in every room (except your bathroom). Most fires start in the kitchen but kitchens are unsuitable for smoke detection, so heat detectors are used instead.

Another way to improve detection at home is by upgrading your detectors. The vast majority of smoke alarms for homes are Grade D. Grade C detection has some advantages over D. They can be found as a self-contained kit that’s more like a small fire alarm system.

A qualified electrician can install this system, and they don’t need any additional or special fire alarm installer qualifications. The Grade C system pictured (there are other Grade C detectors available from other suppliers) is widely available online for about £200; you may want to buy extra detectors if you want one in each room (they’re about ten pounds each).

Whatever detection you have, do take care of it. It’s there to warn you of a small fire so that you can either tackle it or evacuate safely, so test them all regularly.

Have you spoken to your neighbours about the possibility of fire? You may want to decide if any person on your floor has a fire, whether that person should warn everybody else so that they can evacuate and move safely away from the vicinity of the fire. If you do all agree that you’ll warn each other in the unlikely event of a fire, you might all want to consider getting an air horn and keeping it near your front door. Using an air horn is a speedy way to alert neighbours. If you decide to use one make sure you let everybody know what it means if they hear it. If everybody has one then the ability of everybody to warn everybody else, quickly, is much improved.

These horns retail for less than four pounds each.

We have looked at improved detection and alternative ways of alerting people nearby quickly and easily.

Now we’re going to take a look at suppression. The natural reaction of somebody that discovers a small fire is underway inside their home is, quite logically, to extinguish it and save their family home and belongings from being destroyed. In fact, that’s what most people do when they discover a fire, most of the time they deal with it successfully. Only in about one-quarter of instances of fire in dwellings does the householder end up calling 999.

Some householders, upon finding a small fire in a pan on the stove, will pick it up and take it outside, an option that is not open to many people in flats. Considering that cooking is a common cause of fires in homes, it’s a good idea to be ready for one, just in case. Especially if you live in a flat.

This twelve-inch rigid sachet can be dropped into the pan at arm's length and quickly suffocates the fire in the pan by forming a thick crust over the contents, so it is safer to use than a traditional fire blanket.

It’s very important to remember to turn the stove off first and always prioritise your own safety.

If the fire is not in your kitchen the safest way to extinguish it is probably to use an extinguisher. Fortunately, there are small handheld extinguishers available now that are as easy to use as a tin of deodorant. They can be used safely on any fire you might encounter in your home, so no confusing rules around what extinguishers to use on which type of fire; this one does them all.

If you buy the extinguisher and the pan-safe together it’s £27.99, if you enter the code TBUK20 you'll receive a 20% discount:

We think that’s a pretty good deal for two extinguishing devices that will help you tackle any range of ways that small fires might happen in your home. It comes with directions to a smartphone app and instructional videos that should be watched so that the products can be used safely. If you have mobility issues, or there are other reasons that would cause you to be slow fetching a pan of water to extinguish a small fire, it might be a good idea to have a small extinguisher near the door in each room so if you need one, available quickly and conveniently. Remember to keep your back to the door so that your escape route is always accessible, and don’t be afraid to use it. If in doubt get out, close doors behind you, stay out and call 999.

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