Protecting people

A checklist for protecting yourself and others

The dangers associated with a fire include flames, radiant heat and flying sparks and embers that move ahead of a fire front.

People who are caught in a fire or who must combat fires as part of their job have to protect themselves from flames, radiant heat and flying embers. Hence your final level of defence against fires is knowledge of what you can do to protect yourself and other people from fire. This includes when and how to evacuate people, and what to do when caught in a fire, as well as combating fires on your own.

The following is a list of things you can do to protect yourself and others in the event of a fire:

What to do

Tick Make plans for an evacuation, including how to leave, which route to take when travelling away from your home, and where to stay.
Tick Keep the direct telephone number for your local Fire Brigade in easy reach. Preferably next to your telephone.
Tick In the event of an approaching fire, don't overwhelm national emergency services for information. You are better off contacting your local Fire Brigade to see if they are aware of the fire and what they recommend you should do. Also, listen to the radio for news while you start preparing to evacuate your home.
Tick Evacuate well ahead of time those people with disabilities or illnesses and the elderly. This will make it easier for other people to evacuate when they need to.
Tick Attach metal identification tags to the collar of your dogs and cats. Place your cats and other pets in carry baskets for the RSPCA to look after.
Tick Evacuate pets as you would with your other family members. There are strict rules for not doing so and you may be prosecuted by the RSPCA.
Tick On an extreme fire day, you should stay at home (for people living in or near the bush) instead of going to work. You won't be able to get back to protect your home in time if a fire approaches your house.
Tick If you are at home, turn on the sprinkler system if possible. Otherwise stay inside the house when the fire passes. In the meantime, place wet towels and blankets against gaps under doors and windows, close heavy curtains, fill baths, sinks and buckets with water, and stay indoors until the fire passes.
Tick Plug gutters and fill the gutters with water.
Tick Thoroughly water down the house on the side of the approaching fire.
Tick If attempting to combat the fire yourself (after accessing the size of the fire situation as well as how prepared your property is to cope with a fire, and your own physical capabilities and available equipment at hand to combat a fire!), wear suitable clothing. Use natural fibre clothing such as wool or pure cotton material. You will probably feel coolest in cotton. Wool or cotton? When battling fires, there won't be a difference. Wool and pure cotton provide good insulation from radiant heat emanating from a fire and therefore they don't burn well compared to synthetic fibres such as nylon or polyester. Wear long cotton pants, long-sleeved shirt and leather boots (the safest of all shoes, as tennis shoes and rubber boots will simply melt and create severe burns). Another must have is a pair of goggles for eye protection, a broad brimmed hat held firmly on the head in windy conditions, a wet cotton handkerchief or scarf to cover the nose and mouth, a pair of leather gloves for protecting your hands, a wet towel to tie around your neck, and a large bottle of water.
Tick Drink plenty of water before, during and after combating a serious fire. You will lose up to 2 litres of water every 2 hours on a hot day and even more when fighting a fire.
Tick If you are caught in a bush fire and you cannot escape, your best protection is to stay inside your car or home (you have a better chance of surviving in your home than in the car). Close all windows. Lie as low as possible to the floor of the car. If you are inside your home, regularly check roof cavity for potential fires and immediately put them out if you see any. Any other fires started inside the house should be put out as quickly as possible. In the meantime, wait until the fire passes over.
Tick If, at any time, your clothes catch fire, you must stop whatever you are doing, drop yourself to the ground, and roll in the dirt or floor to smother the flames.
Tick If caught in a bush fire while driving a car, look for a clear area off to the side of the road. Areas clear of grass, bush and trees will reduce the intensity of fires.
Tick Never attempt to drive through a smoke or fire infested area as this is how many accidents occur and could put you and others in greater danger.
Tick Put your headlights on to help other people see you.
Tick Stay inside the car as this provides your best protection against radiant heat, the killer for most people who try to go on foot in the open.
Tick Close windows and vents (or turn the vents to recycle) in your car.
Tick It takes about 30 seconds to 1 minute for the fire front to pass. Stay in the vehicle for this time. In the meantime, make sure you have plenty of water in the car and drink it regularly to keep cool.
Tick After the fire front has passed, inspect the car for damage. Check your environment to see whether the fire front will come back a second time. If not, try to start your car and proceed to make your escape.
Tick Several hours after a fire front has passed, go outside and put out spot fires around your property. Also check again the roof cavity of your house to ensure flying embers have not entered and started a fire.
Tick Fires can be started by accident. So be careful how you use or dispose of heated items such as cigarette butts and burnt matches.
Tick Avoid smoking in bed. Bed sheets and pyjamas have a habit of catching fire in the presence of hot cigarette ash if you suddenly fall asleep. Remember, most serious house fires occur when you are asleep or when you are not at home.
Tick Fires can also be started deliberately. People who start a fire in this way are usually the ones who have not experienced a bush fire up close and seen the damage it can do to life and property. They usually have very little understanding of the consequences of their actions. This lack of consequence in their actions is common among young boys and some girls. However, some men can also deliberately start a fire. These are either the attention-seekers or the ones who may have a personal problem which they feel society is not up to the task of helping them properly. It is important that people such as these as well as the children are properly supported, educated, given the direct experience and treated well if they are to properly understand their actions and to do the right thing for everyone. This is perhaps the only real long-term solution to those who may be disadvantaged in some way and feel starting a fire deliberately is the only way to make themselves happy or achieve certain negative things in life.
Tick Keep flammable items and matches away from the reach of children.