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The Purpose of Fire Safety Equipment in Your Home and Office

Home Fire Safety, Business Fire Safety, Workplace Fire SafetyNick Mastrantone

You probably (hopefully!) have at least a couple of items of fire safety equipment in your home -- a couple of smoke detectors, and perhaps a fire blanket or fire extinguisher in the kitchen -- and I'm sure you have many items of fire safety equipment in your workplace.

But do you understand the purpose and use of all these pieces of equipment?

And what about the pieces of equipment you don't have. Do you need them?

Let's take a look at these items of equipment and see if we can answer some of these questions!

Smoke Alarm (or Smoke Detector)

Smoke alarms are designed to give you early warning about the presence of a fire. In the event of a fire, smoke obscures your vision and causes intense irritation to the eyes. This, combined with the effects of the poisons in the smoke, can cause disorientation, impaired judgement and panic, reducing your ability to find an exit. So, it's important that if there is a fire, you are aware of this as soon as possible, in order to maximise your chances of escaping safely.

In homes, smoke alarms should be installed in locations to give occupants reasonable warning when they are asleep. In the workplace, it's important to consider where staff will be working and where the available exist are located. Depending on the size and layout of the building, it's usually necessary to install multiple smoke alarm to provide sufficient warning in all cases of fire.

There are two main types of smoke detector: ionisation and photo-electric.

Ionisation smoke alarms detect small diameter smoke particles, the invisible products of combustion, and are most effective in the case of flaming fires. They are not suitable for locations affected by cooking, combustion heating appliances or open fires.

Photo-electric smoke alarms detect larger smoke particles, the visible products of combustion, and are most effective in the case of smouldering fires. They are suitable for installation near kitchens or in areas containing combustion heaters or open fires.

Smoke alarms can be either battery powered or mains powered (this will depend on the type of building and when it was constructed or purchased) and in some cases may be interconnected.

Smoke alarms are an important - but not the only! - part of your fire escape plan. For information on putting together an escape plan visit the MFS website.

Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is a first attack tool for use in the early stages of a fire. It should only be used on a small fire (no larger than a waste paper basket) and by someone who is confident and physically capable of using the extinguisher.

There are a number of different types of fire extinguishers available to suit the different types of fires. It must be remembered that there is no single fire extinguisher or extinguishment method which will cover all types of fires.

The most common fires are cooking fires so a B:E Dry Chemical Powder Extinguisher is often recommended as a good general solution. This type of extinguisher is suitable for fires involving flammable liquids, electrical fires as well as cooking oils and fats (Class B, E & F fires). However, it is not effective against fires based on burning wood, textiles, paper or rubbish (Class A fires) -- water from a kitchen tap or garden hose should be used to extinguish Class A fires.

When you attempt to extinguish a fire:

  • do not put your life at risk;
  • whenever possible call for support and have someone else call triple zero (000);
  • ensure that all other people have been evacuated from the house; and
  • make sure that you are using the right method or fire extinguisher to put out the fire, especially if electricity or burning fat is involved.

Fire Blanket

Fire blankets can be used to extinguish small fires in the office, home, caravan, boat or garage. They can also be wrapped around a person whose clothes have caught alight. Using a fire blanket correctly is one of the safest ways to extinguish a flammable liquid burning in a container – for example, oil or fat burning in a saucepan.

Constructed of fibreglass, fire blankets can withstand temperatures up to 500 Celsius. They are compact, portable and easily stored. Blankets come in a range of sizes, packaged in a quick-release PVC container.

The kitchen is the most common place for oil or fat fires to occur. Install the fire blanket on the wall near or very close to a door leading out of the kitchen area. Do not locate the blanket beside the oven or stove top as you may not be able reach it in the event of a fire.

It is recommended that fire blankets should only be used once and then replaced.

Fire Hose Reel

Various types of Fire Hose Reels are available to meet specific needs. Mounted on walls and with a typical fully extended length of around 30-40 metres, fire hose reels provide a reasonably accessible and controlled supply of water to combat a potential Class A fire risk (where the fuel is wood, paper, textiles or rubbish). Do not use water on an electrical fire!

Fire hoses are more usually seen in commercial, industrial and public buildings as they can be used by the occupants as a first response to a small developing fire. Hose reels and fire hoses should only be used by people who are trained in their use. In a pinch, water or a garden hose can be used to put out a small fire of this type.

In a workplace environment, it is critical that your staff are trained in the correct use of fire extinguishers and fire hose reels to ensure that they use them effectively and without placing themselves at risk. It is also a requirement of the Occupational Health and Safety and the Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations that your staff are trained.

All hose reels require inspection and testing every 6 months in accordance with Australian Standards. This testing is to ensure that the hose reel is operational in the event of an emergency. During this testing inspectors will check the hose for many things: whether or not there is water at the nozzle; if the hose is leaking; that it is free from dust and debris that can wear away at the hose; and that it is operating to its full capacity.

Hopefully this has answered some of your questions about fire safety equipment in the workplace and in the home. Please visit our online store to view all our fire safety products.