Fire is an ever-present threat to life and property in the urban environment. At least 70 percent of fire deaths occur in the home. There are almost monthly reminders from around the world of the dangers of fire in places like underground stations, sports stadiums and hotels.

To reduce the risks, to protect yourself and possibly save lives you MUST understand more about fire – how it can start, how it behaves and how it kills.

Fire in the Home
Almost 90 percent of fires in the home can be traced to one of ten causes. Here they are, in order of importance, starting with the most common:
Cookers, Portable Heaters, Cigarettes, Matches, Electrical Wiring, Electric Blankets, Blow Torches/Lamps, Televisions/Computer Screens, Chimneys and Candles.
You should also have at least one regularly checked smoke alarm installed and retain one Pocket Smoke Mask per member of your family in case you and your family may need to escape through smoke when fire occurs.

Fire at Work
In industry, flammable materials such as chemicals, fuels and gases must be stored according to specific fire safety regulations. They should always be stored away from sources of heat and heat generating processes like machining, smelting and firing.
Full training should be given to minimize accidents, although human error is only one factor. A faulty piece of machinery or badly maintained plant could easily be a cause of fire. You could always be prepared and run regular fire escape tests. PSM should be placed along the escape route or control room to help the workers in the event of fire.

In an office there may not seem to be as many obvious fire risks as there are in a factory. Nevertheless, offices contain all equipment and stored paper are found in abundance. Old buildings could have faulty wiring or poorly maintained electrical fittings. Electrical equipment and wiring could, in the event of a malfunction, be the heat source that starts a fire. Like in the factory, all workers should know the location of fire safety equipments such as the PSM. The office should also have enough PSM for all the workers in the office.

Over 50 percent of fire deaths are due to toxic fumes and smoke.
Inhaled smoke can irritate the throat causing it to contract in a sudden spasm – closing the airway. Someone found in a smoke-filled room may be unconscious and their breathing may have stopped:

  • Stop further inhalation of smoke and help the victim to wear a PSM.
  • Drag victim away from smoke, preferably to safety outside.
  • If victim is breathing but unconscious put the victim in the recovery position.
  • If breathing has stopped or is difficult, give artificial respiration until help arrives.

You should always put your safety as the first priority and have a PSM on before helping others.

The above information is adapted from John Wiseman’s “The SAS Urban Survival Handbook”