4 things you must know about fire safety at home

Did you know that out of the 4,114 fire calls it responded to last year, 68.5 per cent were fires that happened in residential areas? That's a worrying increase from the reported 62.9 per cent in 2015. These statistics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) show us how important it is to be prepared in fire emergencies, so that we can save ourselves and our family in such unfortunate circumstances. Here are the top four fire emergency must-knows:

1. Fire extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers for the home vary in weight, spray nozzles and chemical ingredients.

The most common examples in the market include dry chemical powder extinguishers, carbon dioxide extinguishers and wet chemical extinguishers.

Most extinguishers have an average shelf life of three years and need to be maintained by qualified and trained personnel.

While most traditional models are heavy and bulky, there are mini ones as small as a can of hair mousse, such as the 250ml Mr Fire X Foam Fire Extinguishing Aerosol Spray ($18, pictured). The can contains foam that expands up to 30 times in size and can be used to combat electrical fires, cooking oil fires, hydrocarbon fires and solid fires.

2. Fire detectors

A fire detection system alerts people to extinguish a fire in its early stages or leave a building before the escape routes become smokelogged.

The most common kind of fire detector for the home is a smoke detector, like the Ei Electronics Ei605 (9V Battery Type) Smoke Detector ($75, pictured). This is often battery operated and installed in riskier areas such as the kitchen.

Other devices detect heat instead of smoke. There are two types of heat detectors - fixed temperature and rate-of-rise.

Fixed temperature detectors are triggered when the ambient temperature increases to a certain level and rate-of-rise detectors work when the room temperature rises at a rate higher than the one preset by the detector, usually an increase of 6.7 to 8.3 degC a minute.

The last type of fire detector, which also has the fastest and most accurate response, is a flame detector. Usually, it detects ultraviolet radiation emitted when a fire is ignited, but some models pick up infrared radiation.

3. Fire insurance

While prevention is the best insurance, fires can occur through no fault of your own because of external factors, so it is important to know what fire insurance you have or lack.

According to the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA), there are two types of home fire insurance widely available. One covers the building, fixtures and permanent fittings and the other covers household contents.

Housing Board flat owners do not have to bear the full financial burden of post-fire repair work as the Housing Board would already have purchased a master fire insurance policy to cover the building and common areas such as void decks.

As for private residences, GIA chief executive Derek Teo says such buildings are likely to be registered as Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) property as required by law.

"In this case, the Land Titles Act would require the MCST holder to insure the whole property against fire damage. Thus, the building and common areas will similarly be insured," he adds.

However, these policy does not cover household contents such as furniture, fittings, appliances, artworks and personal effects such as jewellery and clothing. Flat and private home owners are advised to buy a separate fire insurance policy for these items.

Depending on the coverage, home contents insurance premiums start from $100 a year.

For this insurance, Mr Teo says: "Some policies impose a monetary limit per article insured. For example, it could be $5,000 per article, although the actual replacement value is much more.

"If you have a single expensive household item or item of furniture that may form a substantial percentage of the overall sum insured, it would be better to declare to the insurer at the inception of the policy to ensure full protection."

4. General fire tips

Fight the fire only if you are able to and without endangering yourself and others.

Otherwise, evacuate the room/area and try to get everyone out of the premises without endangering yourself. Activate the fire alarm at the nearest manual call point, and dial 995 for the SCDF.

If you're trapped in a smoke-logged room, cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth and avoid inhaling through the mouth. Get down, keep close to the ground and crawl towards the point of escape under the smoke.

If you can't get out of the house or building, enter a safe room, preferably one which has open windows, good ventilation and overlooks a road. Shut the door behind you and seal the gap beneath the door with a blanket, rug or other fabrics to prevent smoke from entering the room. Go to the window, shout for help to alert others of the fire and dial 995 for the SCDF if you are able to.

If your clothes catch fire, follow the stop, drop and roll procedure: Stop running and remain calm, drop to the floor immediately, and roll over from side to side while covering your face with your hands to smother the flames.


This story was first published on The Straits Times.