KZN Emergency Medical Services, which attends to multiple cases every year that involve fires, notes that the number of incidents increases as winter approaches and during winter months.
This results from people making fires for heat, the sun setting earlier and rising later, increased use of candles and activities where fire is used. Most fire-related cases responded to involve instances where people sustain burn wounds, are affected by smoke inhalation and accidental ingestion of liquid gel fuels.
Many people rely on candles, lanterns and braziers to provide light and heat. A major risk attached to these light and heat sources is that they have an open flame, which poses a fire risk if it is knocked over, or if something falls against it. Considering the likelihood of these devices being used in a confined and poorly ventilated environment, like a small room with the doors and windows closed, smoke produced by the flames can cause respiratory conditions.
Another common cause of fires is illegal or unsafe electrical connections. These range from cables that are connected to a power source illegally or unsafe wiring, where wiring has not been done correctly. Plug points are also often overloaded with multiple devices connected to a plug.
When using candles, gas stoves or braziers, consider the following safety points:
- Leave candles or cookers unattended
- Leave cooking pots unattended while they are being used on a stove
- Allow children to play around fires
- Use candles or cookers near curtain or on an uneven surface
- Use illegal or unsafe electric connections
- Go to sleep with candles or fires/ braziers used for heat still burning
- lock people inside a house
- use homemade cookers or heating appliances
- Ensure adequate ventilation when using braziers or generators and preferably don’t use them inside
- Teach children about fire and its dangers
- Extinguish all flames/ fires before leaving them unattended or going to sleep
- Store stove fuels and flammable fluids safely away
- Keep matches away from children
If there is a fire or it is suspected that there may be a fire, immediate action needs to be taken:
- Raise the alarm/ wake up others in the house. This many also mean neighbours, depending on the living arrangements.
- Evacuate the building, crawl if necessary
- If clothes are on fire, lie on the floor and roll
- Only put water on burn wounds
- Remove burnt clothing and jewellery from burnt areas the of body
- Don’t go back into the burning structure
- Call emergency services
The storage of liquid fuels (paraffin, liquid jell fuels) used in stoves and lanterns, is also very important as they be accidently consumed by children and they themselves are a fire risk. The following precautions can be taken with regard to liquid fuels:
- Store the fuel away from where the devices are used
- Don’t store fuel in beverage containers
- Use a container that seals well and preferably has a safety cap
- Educate children in the house about the fuel and store it out of their reach
- When cooking with gas, close the valve of the cylinder correctly after using it
These are a few basic concepts that can help prevent the start and spread of fires, which cause not only burns but also severe complications from inhaling smoke produced by fires.
Media Liaison Officer: Emergency Medical Services
KwaZulu – Natal Department of Health- South Africa
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