Many of us consider our homes to be our “safe haven”, and to that end we often forget the dangers that can lurk there. The risk of fire in the home is an ever-present one when you consider the amount of electrical equipment most of us have, not to mention the more obvious sources such as cookers or candles. However, with a little bit of awareness it is a simple task to help safeguard against the dangers and relatively cheaply too.

The fumes from a smouldering fire can kill you even before you are aware there is a fire, especially if you are asleep in bed at the time. There are two basic types of smoke alarm, Ionisation alarms that can detect the particles of smoke produced by a fast raging fire, and the Photoelectric alarms, which are more suited to detect the large quantities of smoke produced by smouldering fires. These early warning systems are vital for your family’s safety.

The more alarms you have in your home, the better the protection. If you live on a single level, try and place an alarm in the hallway or room between your main living and sleeping areas. If you live on more then a single level, try and place an alarm on each landing as well as at the bottom of the stairs on the first level. When placing the alarm, you need to place it either on the ceiling (ensuring it is at least 30cm away from any light fittings or walls), or on a wall. If you place the alarm on the wall, it must be 15 – 30cm below the ceiling.

Most smoke alarms rely on batteries for power, and it is vital to check these regularly, if you want something that will go a little longer then standard batteries, you could choose a model that uses a 10-year lithium battery instead. There are also alarms available that wire directly into your mains.

Whichever style of alarm you choose, make sure it has the British Standards Kitemark on it and be sure to read the instructions carefully before you install it and regularly check it for signs of wear and tear – using the “test” button to ensure that it won’t fail you when you need it most.

Smoke alarms are just the start of your home defence against fire; you should also invest in fire extinguishers best suited to your home. Any extinguisher over 1kg needs to comply with either the European Standard BS EN3 or the older BS 5423 regulation.

There are several types of extinguisher that are used for specific fire types.

  • Water – Water extinguishers are used for free burning materials. This means things like paper, cloth and wood. Some contain water mixed with a special fire-inhibitor that helps prevent materials burning. Water extinguishers aren’t suitable to fight fires caused by flammable liquids or electrics.
  • Foam – This is a good extinguisher for the home as it is more versatile then water. Foam can be used to extinguish fires involving paper, cloth, and wood but also most flammable liquids too.
  • Powder – Powder extinguishers are another good extinguisher to have in the home. They are suited for fires involving Flammable liquids, Electrical appliances and most free burning materials. The downside of powder extinguishers is that they work by smothering the fire, rather then cooling the flames, so a fire may reignite.
  • Carbon Dioxide – These extinguishers are used for flammable liquids or electrical equipment like computers, photocopiers or generators. They aren’t really suited to home use as they are not to be used in confined spaces where you could inhale the fumes.

To use an extinguisher you must first determine if it is safe for you to do so, if it doesn’t seem safe to tackle the fire, don’t – evacuate and wait for the fire brigade. If you do deem it safe to try and tackle the fire yourself, evacuate any un-needed people, and raise the alarm. Then move to a position where you have unrestricted access to the fire but where you still have a clear line of exit should things get beyond your control. Crouching can help you to avoid the worst of the smoke, and some of the heat allowing you to move closer to the fire. Follow the instructions on the extinguisher and always ensure that the fire is fully extinguished and not likely to re-ignite.

The fastest, safest and easiest way to extinguish a cooking-oil fire is to use a fire blanket. Most modern fire blankets are made of woven glass, and are coated to ensure that oils and fats don’t penetrate them. Make sure they are placed somewhere that is easily accessible from the stove.

To use them, turn out the heat under the pan, pull out the blanket and hold it so that your hands are protected behind it, then drape the blanket over the pan. The flames will be smothered immediately, but do not remove the blanket for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the heat to decrease. Never try to pick up a blazing pan and take it outside, as the flames could blow back on to you and make you drop the pan and cause a larger fire.

Fire blankets are also good if someone’s clothes are on fire; wrap the blanket around them to smother the flames.

Even if you are prepared, be sure to remember the 10 rules of fire safety and never fight a fire if it isn’t safe to do so, evacuate and wait for the professionals.

You can buy alarms and fire extinguishers from your local DIY store, or alternatively you might find it easier and cheaper to buy them online from a reputable company.