How to prevent and survive fires

March 2024 Fire & Safety, Security Services & Risk Management

Wahl Bartmann.

Since its launch in August 2023, Fidelity SecureFire, a division of the Fidelity Services Group, has made significant strides in revolutionising fire response services in South Africa. The unique ‘own first responder’ model has responded to 270 incidents.

Wahl Bartmann, CEO of Fidelity Services Group, says the team responds to 11 incidents per week on average, and this is only in Gauteng.

The majority of callouts involve structural fires, veld fires, electrical fires, vehicle fires, and lithium battery fires. He says the average response times for first and second responders are all within a 15-minute window.

South Africa has seen a rapid rise in the popularity of alternative power solutions being installed in residences as homeowners look for ways of ensuring a reliable source of power. Lithium-ion batteries are very well-suited for inverters because of their long life and high voltage.

“It is essential that homeowners understand the potential risk of fire that comes with lithium batteries and how difficult they are to control. Such a fire cannot be contained by water or other traditional measures. Lithium-ion fires do not burn cleanly and can vent toxic gases into the surrounding area.”

“If you have installed an inverter at home, we ask that you investigate whether your fire protection measures are adequate and suitable for lithium fires. Importantly, these require a lithium fire extinguisher, which should be placed close to your inverter or battery bank,” says Bartmann.

In general, a fire at your home can happen when you least expect it, and that is why it is good to have measures in place to avoid excessive damage or loss. Fidelity SecureFire has put together a ‘Fire Safety Checklist’ to help you identify any vulnerable spaces in your home:

• Smoke alarms: Smoke detectors are an excellent idea to install in the main rooms of your house, including the garage, kitchen, lounge, and bedrooms, where you have an accumulation of electronic equipment that needs recharging. It is important to ensure they are interconnected so that all the alarms go off if there is a fire. Bartmann says that, like any equipment, smoke detector batteries should be tested monthly and replaced once a year.

• Fire extinguishers: Ideally, one should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and garage. It is also helpful to consider adding a fire blanket with a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. All family members in the house should be trained on how to use the fire extinguisher; again, these should be checked annually.

• Electrical safety: Prevention is always better than cure, so to avoid a fire hazard, ensure all electrical cords and plugs are in good condition without frays or damage. Electrical outlets should not be overloaded with too many plugs, and if possible, avoid placing extension cords under carpets or rugs. Also, remember to unplug appliances when not in use, and any damaged electrical appliances should always be repaired or replaced.

• Heating appliances: Heaters should be placed at least 1 metre away from flammable materials, like curtains, furniture, or bedding, and if you have a fireplace, the chimney and vents must be cleaned and inspected annually.

• Kitchen safety: Ensure your stove and oven are free from grease buildup, and keep all flammable items like dish towels and oven mitts away from the stove while cooking. Small appliances like toasters and air fryers should be unplugged when not in use, and gas cylinders should not be kept on your gas stove when not in use.

• Candles and open flames: With winter around the corner, be especially aware of candles and ensure they are placed on sturdy holders and kept far away from curtains, bedding, and other flammable materials. They should be extinguished before bed.

Finally, in the event of a fire, ensure you and your family have an escape plan. “You should have at least two ways to exit a room in your home in case of a fire and ensure there is a safety door. The keys to the door should be placed at a predetermined centralised spot. Having a trial run twice yearly to practice your evacuation is not a bad idea,” says Bartmann.

Finally, store any important documentation and emergency contacts in a fireproof safe. Have all emergency contact numbers saved on all family members' cellphones and, if you have a landline, next to the home telephone.

“The golden rule is to be prepared for any eventuality, and if you have a plan in place, your chances of surviving a fire are just that much greater,” he says.

For more information, contact Fidelity Services Group, [email protected],

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