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Fire Safety: Is your home at risk?

  • Posted by: Lloyd Gitonga

It is a scenario that the everyday Nairobian is by now accustomed to: you are stuck in traffic on, say Mombasa Road, and you hear sirens in the distance. You speculate for a minute whether it’s a police or ambulance siren, and when the emergency vehicle eventually snakes its way past the matatu you are in, you realize it’s a fire engine. You say a silent prayer for those affected by the fire, perhaps even quickly take to Twitter to find out where the fire engine is headed or rant about how other motorists do not give way for emergency response vehicles to pass. You finally make your way home, and that evening on the news hear this:

“A three-year old child perished in a house fire in Embakasi, Nairobi earlier this evening. According to local authorities, the fire is believed to have begun after the child’s mother left the house to go to a local kiosk, locking the child inside and leaving a lit candle unattended.”

While such incidents are truly unfortunate, they are avoidable as well. The prevalence of fire-related incidents both in Nairobi and across the rest of the country is a trend that has been consistent over the past few months. Between July and September, fire-related incidents have accounted for 18 percent of all activity that we have recorded in our Securex database in Nairobi; and 14 percent of all activity in the rest of the country. In Nairobi alone, while fire only accounted for 7% of all activity we recorded between April and June 2016; this figure rose to 17% between July and September. Perhaps then, more needs to be done when it comes to generating public awareness around fire safety.

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As per our figures, 18 percent of all fire-related incidents over the past three months in the country, excluding arson, were avoidable. It simply boils down to embracing a fire safety culture. Incidents that fall under this category mainly revolve around negligence in the use of candles, lanterns, and other naked flames within a typical residential setting, as well as gas cookers, stoves, and the traditional jiko. Another worrying causal factor to note is a trend whereby parents and guardians leave their young ones home alone, or sometimes even locking their children inside the house, which is a violation of the fire safety best practices.

We strongly advise against leaving minors in the house alone, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. Beyond this, it is dangerous to lock anyone inside a house without any means of escape should the need arise. We encourage parents to take a proactive approach to fire safety around the home by establishing a fire escape route and regularly doing practice drills with the rest of the family. When using candles or lanterns, place them at least one foot away from anything flammable and never leave them unattended.

The kitchen often poses the greatest fire risk in a typical home. Homeowners are advised to only purchase gas cylinders and mekos from recognised and approved dealers. If possible, cylinders should be secured outside the house as opposed to inside the kitchen. When preparing meals, don’t leave the kitchen until the meal is ready, and turn off the gas supply at the main valve and not just the burner itself when done cooking. It is also recommended to always make sure that the gas supply is turned off before retiring for the night.

According to our data, 9 percent of all fire-related incidents over the past three months have been caused by electric faults. While certain incidents are unavoidable, employing preventive measures can help bring this figure down. During construction, you should have all wiring done only by qualified electricians and arrange for a consultant to survey your home for potential fire risks afterwards. A common cause of fires is leaving electrical appliances unattended for long periods of time. You should switch off any gadgets when not in use and switch off all electrical appliances when going to bed as well.

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