Updated 23 February 2015

Safety tips for fire and water

Did you know that when we are sleeping, the smell of smoke will probably only wake 20% of us, and that children do not thrash around and shout for help when they are drowning.


This means that if there is a fire in your home, you are unlikely to smell the smoke until it is too late. In the colder months, there are fewer lifeguards on duty and as such, swimmers need to be able to identify potential risks.

Although we have all read a variety of articles about safety in the home and how to prevent drowning, these accidents still happen on a daily basis.

Over the last six years, the Centrum® Guardian Project has profiled 49 finalists across various emergency disciplines such as medical, water, fire and rescues. When asked how to stay safe and what to do in an emergency, the finalists involved in the project remarked that the incidents they deal with could have often been avoided, if people were more vigilant and careful.

Johan Pieterse, the media and liaison spokesperson for the City of Tshwane, and Andrew Ingram from the National Sea Rescue Institute shared this valuable information on fire safety and water safety respectively.    


Fire Safety:

- Many house and structure fires occur due to negligence or lack of safety measures. Use appliances that carry the SABS mark of approval. Have electric cables installed by a professional electrician to minimise the risk of fire. Never run electric cables under carpets, as this might cause a short circuit and start a fire. Do not overload extension cords or outlets. If you need to plug in two or three appliances, get an approved unit with built-in circuit breakers to prevent sparks and short circuits.

- Turn off all electrical appliances if a power failure occurs in your area.

- Make sure that the pipes and connections of gas appliances are in good working order before you ignite the appliance. Keep gas cylinders in a well-ventilated area, preferably separately from other appliances. Test any gas appliance or heater for possible leaks by spraying connections with a soap solution. Leaks will show in the form of a bubble and must be repaired immediately.

- Ensure that the chimney in your house is cleaned regularly and covered with a safety shield.

- Install smoke alarms in the house and have a fire extinguisher at hand for use in an emergency. Ensure that you change alarm batteries every six months and test these on a regular basis.

- Avoid having unnecessary waste or compost heaps if your home will be left unattended for a long time.

- Practice escape drills so that everyone is well prepared in an emergency. Make sure that emergency numbers are easily accessible.

- Take special care when you use open fires for braais or heat, and extinguish all fires once you leave the area.

- There have been numerous news reports about people who were unable to escape their homes during a fire due to burglar bars. Ensure that you can open windows from the inside and that burglar bars and other anti-theft mechanisms that block entry from the outside are easily opened from the inside.

- Review and practice escape routes with your family or workers. Teach family members or workers to stay close to the floor when escaping from a fire as the air is safer at this level.

- The keys to these emergency exits must be kept in a safe position close to the emergency exits in preferably "break glass" units.  All members living at the premises must be educated on the use of the safety measure.  

- The golden rule is that once you are outside a burning structure, never go back in to save valuables. You might become trapped.

Read more:

First aid for burns

How to keep kids safe around a fire

More on burns!

Water safety:

- Contrary to popular belief, children do not thrash around and shout for help when they are drowning. They may be able to wave and shout for help when in distress, but drowning is silent.

- Watch out for rip currents. Rip currents are the greatest cause of drowning accidents along our coast. A rip current looks like rivers of water flowing fast out to sea against the incoming waves. If you are caught in a rip current you will be swept out to sea faster than you’re able to swim towards the shore.

- Look out for a break in the incoming pattern of waves, water in a surf zone that is a different colour (often darker because it is deeper) to the surrounding water, seaweed, bubbles or debris moving out to sea through the surf zone or isolated turbulent and choppy water in the surf zone.

- Don’t panic or try to swim against the current. As difficult as it sounds, let the current take you out to sea. Raise one arm in the air and wave to alert people on the shore that you’re in trouble.

- The rip current’s force dissipates the further out to sea it gets. At the first chance you get, swim parallel to the beach until you’re free of the rip, then use the incoming waves to aid your progress to get back to shore.

- Rip currents are not an "undertow". They will not pull you under the water. As long as you can tread water or float you will be safe until you can escape the flow and head back to the beach. Maintain a slow and relaxed swimming pace until you reach the shore or assistance arrives.

- Talk to the lifesavers about rip currents before getting in the water.

- NEVER swim alone.

- There is nothing wrong with making young children wear approved life jackets to play in the surf. That doesn’t mean you can leave them alone – but it will make them safer.

- Discuss rip currents and how to deal with them with your children.

- Swim only on beaches where lifesavers are on duty.

Also read:

Tips to prevent drowning

WHO highlights shocking global impact of drowning

Be safe in the water

Reference:1 Lynch, JL (1997). Nocturnal Olfactory Response to Smoke Odor; An applied research project submitted to the National Fire Academy as part of the Executive Fire Officer Programme. p. 135.


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