Fire safety in the home

Every three hours a home burns in New Zealand. The estimated annual cost of residential fire damage is around $142,000,000. The emotional cost is much, much greater. Fire kills on average 12 people each year and injures hundreds more. Children, the elderly and the disabled are especially vulnerable.

Being fire safe starts with having smoke alarms installed and maintained, but it also means taking care when cooking and when using heaters, matches, candles and electrical appliances.

It’s easy to be fire safe, and it could save your family.

Electric blankets

Do not sleep with your electric blanket on. Check your electric blanket for damage or wear and tear before using it each winter, and check again each time you change the sheets.

Inspect the cord, control switch and plug for any damage and look for any kinks, worn or exposed wires, scorch marks or breaks in the heating element.

In summer, store your blanket rolled (in corrugated cardboard, if possible), or stored flat on your bed or in a dry area where no objects will be placed on it. Never fold your blanket, as this is likely to damage the heating elements.

Don't use electric blankets for young children – bedwetting can cause electrocution.

For more information about using and storing your electric blanket, see the Energy Safety Service website (external link).

Electrical sockets and appliances

Put safety plugs in all electrical sockets to prevent your children suffering burns and electrocution. Safety plugs are available from supermarkets, hardware stores and electrical supplies stores.

If you are installing new sockets in your house, use shuttered sockets, which are more difficult for children to poke things into. Keep metal objects such as keys and scissors out of reach so they can't be poked into sockets, heaters or other electrical outlets.

Don’t overload power points or multi-boxes and always use a multi-box with a circuit breaker. Make sure non-essential appliances are switched off at the wall when you’ve finished using them. Keep multi-boxes out of sight and reach of children.

When you finish using electrical appliances such as hair dryers, put them away so children can't play with them.

Teach children about the dangers of electricity.

For more information about electrical safety in the home, see the Energy Safety Service website (external link).

Electrical cords

Replace frayed or damaged electrical cords.

Make sure cords are in good condition. Frayed, cracked or damaged cords are dangerous and may result in a fire or cause an electric shock. Replace the cord as soon as you notice any damage, or have it professionally repaired.

Don't run electrical cords under mats and rugs – they get damaged and become a fire hazard.

Keep cords tidy by running them along a wall. Only use tape or specially designed clips to attach cords to the wall, floor or other structures. Nails or staples will damage the cord. Never stand furniture on an electrical cord.

Keep all electrical cords out of the reach of small children. Use short cords on your electric jugs and kettles, or use a cordless jug, to prevent children from pulling on the cords and suffering hot water scalds.

Stoves and cooking

Cooking is the number one fire danger in your home so never leave the kitchen if you’re cooking.

Turn pot handles to the back of the stove so they're not easily pulled or knocked off, or use a stove guard. You can buy one from major appliance outlets in your area.

Secure the stove to the wall so it won't tip if small children stand on the door or pull themselves up on it.

For advice on securing household items, see the Earthquake Commission website (external link).

Curtains around stoves

Ensure curtains are kept well away from the stove so they can't catch fire.

Consider installing blinds instead of curtains if you have a window above your stove or bench.

Oven cloth

Use an oven cloth when handling hot saucepans and oven dishes.

Make sure that the cloth is dry – heat travels through a wet cloth very quickly and can burn within seconds.

Cooking oil

When cooking with oil keep children out of the way in case the hot oil spits or spills.

Pat food with a paper towel before placing in hot oil – this will minimise spitting.

Watch what you are cooking at all times.

Smoking

Do not smoke in bed. It is dangerous, especially if you fall asleep while smoking. Use a solid ashtray to stub out butts and soak them with water before throwing them out. If you or others have been smoking in the lounge, check behind cushions for butts and ashes before going to bed. Better yet, smoke outside.

Candles

Only ever burn candles in a secure candle holder that can’t tip easily and keep them away from anything that could burn, especially curtains. Always put candles out before you go to sleep or leave a room, and never let children play with candles or be unsupervised in a room with a lit candle.

Heating

Learn and remember the heater metre rule – keep furniture, clothes and curtains at least one metre away from heaters and fireplaces. Also teach children not to go near them, especially if they are wearing lose or flammable clothing. Treat ashes as if they’re still hot, because they might be – ashes can take up to five days to cool so make sure you leave them in a metal container, well clear of your house

Fire extinguishers

Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Fire extinguishers should be wall-mounted (out of the normal reach of children) in or near the kitchen, but away from the stove or cooking surfaces.

Always read the instructions on the extinguisher and ensure that everyone staying in the house is aware of where it is and how to use it.

For information on how to use a fire extinguisher, see the New Zealand Fire Service website (external link).

Smoke alarms

Install smoke alarms in or near each bedroom, and in the lounge and hallways. Don't put them in the kitchen, garage or bathroom unless they are designed specifically for use in those areas.

There are two types of alarms:

  • ionization
  • photoelectric

A photoelectric alarm is more suitable for kitchens as it is less sensitive to cooking smoke.

Smoke rises and moves along the ceiling; it will move up stairwells and vertical openings. It is therefore important to place smoke detectors on the ceiling to get the earliest warning. If you have to position a smoke detector on the wall, it should be 100mm below the ceiling to avoid dead air pockets.

Change the batteries every year (the beginning of daylight saving is a good time to remember). Clean and test the alarms once a month; spider webs or dust can stop them working. It is recommended that you replace them every ten years.

You can call your local fire station for advice on where to install smoke alarms and for assistance with installation for older people and people with disabilities.

Fire safety checklist

To be really sure you can sleep easy, do a fire check every night:

  • are all kitchen appliances turned off?
  • are all heaters turned off and one metre away from anything that could burn?
  • are there any stray cigarette butts and have ashtrays been emptied into a metal bin outside?
  • is the television switched off at the power switch on the set – and not on the remote control’s ‘standby’?
  • are any candles still burning?
  • is the kitchen and living room doors closed to slow a fire from spreading to bedrooms?
  • is the house secure with keys in deadlocks?
  • are the passageways clear for a quick escape?
  • have you turned off all electric blankets before getting into bed?

For more easy fire safety advice, go to the New Zealand Fire Service website (external link).

Last updated: 2 May 2014

Last reviewed: 23 January 2014