A firefighter's Christmas wish list
We’ve asked one of our firefighters, Laura, what her Christmas wishes are.
She’s given us a list of ‘gifts’ she’d love for you to purchase. For yourself, or to give to loved ones, to help keep everyone safe from fire all year round. Here’s what she says…
1. Battery-powered candles or tea lights
Way before I became a firefighter, I learned about the serious risk of candles. My family home caught fire on Christmas Day when I was ten years old because of candles on a fireplace.
Candle fires spread very quickly because they start with a naked flame, so it’s really lucky that we were able to get out and save the house. If we had battery-powered candles in those days, we wouldn’t have had the fire.
And the bonus is, not only are battery-powered candles safer, but the candles will last a lot longer as you can just replace the batteries!
2. Cooking timer
More than half of the house fires we attend start in the kitchen. I can tell you one common cause of fires in the kitchen which is easily preventable: distraction. This could be your dog, children, the TV, your mobile phone, or at Christmas, getting caught up in the excitement of opening presents.
To avoid leaving something unattended, a cooking timer is a simple and easy way to remind you to keep an eye on your cooking. I suggest taking the timer with you, so you can hear it if you've walked away from the kitchen (or if your house is filled with noisy festive cheer!). You can even have multiple timers for different parts of the meal (which makes you feel like a true pro at the same time – move over MasterChef!).
3. A packet of oven chips
Now I know this is a weird one but hear me out! We see far too many fires caused by people using deep fat fryers on a hob. Hot oil catches alight really easily and can cause a huge and dangerous fire.
Oven chips are so much easier, quicker, and much less hassle. Just think…you don’t have to wait ages for oil to heat up, and you don’t need to clear up all the oil afterwards.
Plus, oven chips are so good these days, and there are so many varieties (off the top of my head - crinkle cut, wavy, curly, French or even ‘fat’ chips). So hopefully you’ll be able to convert even the most die-hard chip fan!
4. Smoke alarm
The warning a smoke alarm provides can save your life. But smoke alarms can only help you if they are working.
Everyone needs at least one working smoke alarm on every level of their home. I know there are lots of different types of smoke alarm, but don’t feel overwhelmed. Our smoke alarm safety page explains more about them.
It’d make my Christmas dreams come true if all of you could get a smoke alarm with a 10 year battery life, and test it at least once a month.
5. Portable oil-filled heater
I have a personal experience of a heater causing a fire (more on that below), so this truly is a plea from me personally to all of you. Please make a change to a safer heating method, such as an oil-filled radiator.
A couple of years ago, I attended a fire caused by a halogen heater. It had been knocked over when an elderly gentleman suffered a stroke. The heater landed on a pile of paperwork that was on the floor and it wasn’t long before the fire caught and spread.
Luckily, we saved the man. I can still remember so clearly the feeling of carrying him out of the building to safety. It was such a huge relief that he survived.
Oil-filled radiators are much safer because unlike lots of other portable heaters, they don’t have any exposed heating elements that could catch alight or start a fire. So they’re really low risk, as they aren’t likely to ignite any items nearby.
6. Chimney sweep voucher
I know, I know. It might not be the most exciting Christmas present…but if someone has an open fire or log burning stove, the chimney needs to be regularly swept.
Chimney fires are often caused by dirty chimneys that become filled with tar, which is extremely flammable. I’ve been to a few chimney fires myself and trust me, they really are no fun at all. As a minimum, they will leave your house full of smoke, which is very hard to get rid of.
Having your chimney swept is an important task – and for some types of fuel it needs sweeping every three months, so how about helping a loved one with the cost by giving them a voucher?
7. Reusable barbecue
I know the light and warmth of summer may feel quite far away now, but why not be extra prepared for when it comes back around? Or even for if you just fancy an outside meal in the meantime? Disposable barbecues can get easily out of control, and sometimes even lead to wildfires. They’re also a nightmare to dispose of as the coals stay hot for ages and release carbon monoxide.
I’d be so happy if you invested in a reusable barbecue instead. You could go for a small charcoal option - you can get folding ones to make them really easy to transport. Lightweight, portable, and affordable too. It’s easy to find the bags of charcoal you’d need online, or at good outdoors shops too.
If you’d prefer a different fuel type, you could purchase a portable stove that uses a small gas canister which is easier to transport than charcoal.
8. Carbon monoxide alarm
Carbon monoxide is called the ‘silent killer’. This is because you can't see it, taste it or smell it. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal or cause permanent damage to your health, so it’s something you really need to have an alarm for. The alarm will beep if carbon monoxide is present, and give you the early warning you need to get out of the house.
You need a carbon monoxide alarm in every room where fuel is being burnt. So that would mean if you have a gas hob or oven, putting an alarm in the kitchen, and if you have an open fire or wood burner, putting an alarm in the room where those are located as well.
9. Book a free home safety visit
One final ‘gift’ on my wish list is for you to encourage your family members (in particular, those who are vulnerable or live alone) to book in for a free home fire safety visit.
One of my lovely colleagues – a specially trained home fire safety technician – will come and visit the home and help you with some simple steps to reduce the risk of fire. They’ll also be able to advise on escape routes in the event of a fire, and help with smoke alarms and other fire safety equipment (which they’ll supply free of charge if the resident needs it).
Find out more about home fire safety visits and how to request one.
Laura is an on-call firefighter based at Newton Abbot Fire Station – find out more about becoming an on-call firefighter.