Mar 02, 2022

Don’t Flirt With Fire: A Homeowner’s Guide to Fire Prevention

March is the National Fire Prevention Month in the Philippines. Incidentally, the month marks the start of summertime and the number of fire-related incidents usually rises during this season. Fire prevention and getting ready for a fire-related emergency should be definitely the priority of a homeowner. 

In light of the Fire Prevention Month, here is a homeowner’s guide to fire prevention and being prepared. 

Credit: Philippine News Agency

Fire Prevention Month in the Philippines

Every year for decades now, March has been observed as the Fire Prevention Month in the Philippines to raise awareness about the causes, hazards, and dangers of fire. 

Back in 1966, then-President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation 115-A, which assigned different aspects of safety and accident prevention to each month of the year.

So, from January to December, we observe the following (in chronological order): general orientation, air transportation, fire prevention, vacation hazards, land transportation, sea transportation, schools, farms, health and sanitation, industry and commerce, homes, and holiday hazards. This law promotes safety consciousness among the Filipino people as a preventive approach to a common problem. 

Fire Prevention Month was assigned to the month of March, incidentally, because of the high record of fire incidents that happen at this time of the year. 

One reason why this is so stems from the fact that March happens to be one of the hottest months in the Philippines and has the most fire incidents throughout the year. The month marks the start of the hot and dry season that usually ends at around the month of May.

Additionally, March was also declared the Burn Prevention Month, as per Proclamation 360 signed by former President Corazon Aquino. 

As a fun and positive way to usher in Fire Prevention Month, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), along with local government and nong-overnment organizations, would participate in motorcades going around the different municipalities. These also involve thousands of cars and trucks including emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines.

BFP representatives would also go to schools, and sometimes offices, to educate students and civilians on how to prepare for a fire emergency. 

Common Causes of Fires: Habits To Avoid

Ever heard of the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” A good number of homes are lost every year because of simple human errors that could have been easily avoided. Ditch these common habits and follow our fire prevention tips to keep your family and propertyt safe from fire.

Overloading extension cords

At times, people tend to overestimate the capacity of extension cords. Sometimes users would plug in additional extension cords or adaptors that would cause an overload. Also, some extension cords are not equipped to power high-usage appliances such as refrigerators, computers, washing machines, televisions, and such. 

Tip: Use wall outlets for high-usage appliances and use extension cords for electronics that have lower power ratings. 

Leaving a candle burning unattended

Unattended lit candles are a common cause of house fires when there is a power outage. It is also tempting to leave scented candles burning to improve the room’s ambiance. Both can be a recipe for disaster because they can easily topple down and light something that easily burns. 

Tip: Never leave a lit candle unattended. Avoid placing candles close to dry and flammable objects. 

Using damaged power cords

Damaged power cords not only pose a serious risk of fire but also electrical shock. Watch out for these telltale signs: missing ground prongs, damage to the insulation, and heat damage (when sections of the cord or plug appear discolored, warped, or melted). Cords are designed with protective casing and rubber coating for the sole reason of preventing electrical shocks and fire. 

Tip: Throw out worn-out and damaged power cords (dispose of these properly) even if they are still working. 

Crowding appliances together

You may also want to consider how your appliances are placed so close together. If you have many appliances running in one area, this may overload the electrical capacity of the outlets there which can result in a fire. Moreover, the cumulative heat from the appliances can also ignite easily combustible materials.

Tip: Avoid putting several appliances in one place or using one outlet at the same time. If crowding cannot be avoided, make sure you unplug appliances that are not in use.

Careless cooking in the kitchen

It’s quite common to leave some food cooking on your stove while you do other chores or tasks. This could be a recipe for disaster, as leaving an active stove burner unattended may result in a fire.

Tip: Always ensure that you finish all your cooking and that the stove’s knobs are switched off before leaving the kitchen. Also, check the gas lines regularly for leaks. 

Leaving appliances plugged in while you’re out for a long time

Even if the appliances or electronics are switched off, make it a habit to make sure these are unplugged when you leave home. Electricity in houses or buildings tends to fluctuate and cause grounds, damaging your electronics that can start a fire. 

Tip: If you will be away from home for a couple of days or more, it would be ideal to turn off the main circuit breaker.

Irresponsible smoking

As if smoking isn’t bad enough for your health, it is also a leading cause of fires. Irresponsible disposal of lit cigarette butts are the cause of thousands of fires including house fires, forest fires, and other fire-related incidents. 

Tip: Dispose of cigarette butts and matches responsibly. Better yet, quit the habit!

Ignoring lint buildup in the dryer

Statistics from the United States say that more than 15,000 house fires are started per year because of clothes dryers. While this cause isn’t as common in the Philippines where you can hang your clothes out to dry, it may still be a concern, especially among condo dwellers who use clothes dryers regularly.

Tip: Avoid this by simply cleaning off the lint from the filter or tray of your dryer. 

Not dusting enough

Although it seems like an exaggeration, dust buildup is still considered a fire hazard. Dust, if left to accumulate, can create a home for heat around electronics and sockets. 

Tip: Make sure to clean up and vacuum even in hard-to-reach areas like the undersides of appliances. 

Fire Prevention Features To Look For in a Home

Another step to fire prevention and safety is preparing your home. Here are some questions you may want to think about: Is your home built and structured in a way that is resistant to fire? Are there enough escape routes? Is it equipped with the correct fire suppression systems? 

You can also use this as a guide if you are planning to buy a house in the Philippines.

Fire-rated materials 

Section 2.02.02 of the Fire Code of the Philippines classifies building materials according to their fire-resistive ratings, which are determined by international standards and methods. Consider these when you are overseeing the construction of your new home or when you are choosing a future home. The tables below illustrate different materials used and their respective durability and resistance. 

One-Hour Fire-Resistive Time Period Rating 
Walls and partitions 
Solid masonry 10cm thick  
Hollow unit masonry 15cm thick  
Solid concrete 10cm thick  
Floors 
Masonry/Concrete 10cm thick  
Wood joists (2 layers of flooring above) 1.9cm thick 2 layers shall be separated by sheet metal or asbestos building paper (6.3cm thick) 
Tongue and grooved wood floors 6.3cm thick shall be covered with 1.9cm thick wood flooring laid at right angles thereto 
Supporting beams Must not be less than 15cm in dimension  
Protection for metal structural members 
Concrete 2.5cm thick  
Masonry 3.8cm thick  
Metal Lath plaster 2.5cm thick  
Others 
Wood columns 20cm or more in least dimensions  
Wood beams 15cm or more in least dimensions  
Two-Hour Fire-Resistive Time Period Rating 
Walls, partitions, and floors 
Solid masonry 15cm thick  
Hollow unit masonry 20cm thick  
Solid concrete 12.7cm thick  
Protection for metal structural members  
Concrete 3.8cm  
Masonry 5cm  
Two layers of metal lath and plaster Total thickness of 6.3cm, 1.9cm air space in between  
Three-Hour Fire-Resistive Time Period Rating 
Walls, partitions, and floors 
Solid masonry 17.8 thick  
Hollow unit masonry 25.4 thick  
Solid concrete 15cm thick  
Protection for metal structural members  
Concrete 5.08cm thick  
Masonry 7.8cm  
Four-Hour Fire-Resistive Time Period Rating 
Walls, partitions, and floors 
Solid masonry 20cm thick  
Hollow unit masonry 30cm thick  
Solid concrete 17.8cm thick  
Steel Joists Floors should have 1 to 4 hour fire-resistive rating based on international standards 
Flame-Proof Materials required to be treated with a flame-retardant that has a flame-spread rating of 50 and less, determined by the “Tunnel Test” 

Good electrical planning 

Electrical fires are accountable for a good percentage of residential fires. Hiring a competent electrical contractor or electrician does not only save your appliances and electronics from damage but also greatly reduces the chances of a house fire. Have the electrical planning of your house and building checked, and ensure that all wiring and other electrical equipment are up to standard. 

Ideal building structure 

According to the Fire Code of the Philippines, the following should be considered for the building’s structure to make it ideal in an event of a fire emergency: 

  • Every building or structure shall be provided with sufficient exits to permit the fast and safe escape (Rule 10.2.2.A) 
  • There should be various exit options in case any one safeguard is ineffective. (Rule 10.2.2.A) 
  • Every exit of structures shall be designed and maintained to provide free and unobstructed escape (Rule 10.2.2.D) 
  • Every exit shall be clearly visible (Rule 10.2.2.E) 
  • All passageways of exit shall be provided with adequate and reliable light (Rule 10.2.2.F) 
  • Fire alarm systems shall be provided in every structure depending on size, arrangement, and occupancy to provide adequate warning to occupants (Rule 10.2.2.G) 
  • Every structure depending on size, arrangement, and occupancy shall have at least two means of escape remote from each other in order to minimize any possibility that both may be blocked by fire or other emergency conditions (Rule 10.2.2.H) 
  • Every vertical way of exit shall be enclosed or protected to afford safety of occupants while using these exits and to prevent the spread of fire, smoke, or fumes through these (Rule 10.2.2.I) 
  • Occupants of structures must organize themselves and determine and implement a fire safety plan—a means to prevent fire in the premises, notify the BFP in case of fire, initial firefighting and evacuation of persons. (Rule 10.2.2.J) 

Fire prevention and suppression equipment 

Homes should be equipped with the tools needed to detect and suppress a fire. These include smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a sprinkler system. 

Smoke Detectors 

Smoke detectors are devices that sense smoke—the typical indicator of a fire. There are two main types of smoke detectors for home use: photoelectric and ionization. Both will detect either a smoldering fire or a flaming fire. 

  • Photoelectric – These smoke detectors tend to respond faster to the smoke produced by smoldering fires than ionization smoke detectors. 
  • Ionization – On the other hand, these tend to respond faster to the smoke produced by flaming fires. 

Which one should be used at home? It all depends on the location of the smoke alarm, if it’s by the kitchen, living room, laundry, or anywhere else. Different rooms can have different kinds of fire. Both types of smoke detectors can be used in one room, especially in the kitchen, where home fires usually start. 

Fire Extinguishers

These are portable fire suppression equipment used for small fires. These work through chemical reactions that deprive the flame of oxygen. Here are the classifications of fire extinguishers and on what material on fire they are most effective: 

  • Class A  
    • Wood 
    • Rubber 
    • Paper 
    • Plastics 
  • Class B 
    • Gasoline 
    • Grease 
    • Oil 
  • Class C 
    • Electrical fires 
  • Class D 
    • Combustible metals 
  • Class K 
    • Kitchen fires 

Fire Sprinkler System 

Fire sprinkler systems help significantly in damage control and increase your chances of surviving the fire. Homes with a fire sprinkler system incur nine times less damage when a fire breaks out. Also, having a sprinkler system increases your chances of survival for up to 97% from a low of 50%. 

Preventing Fire and Keeping Your Family Safe 

Help keep your family safe by preparing emergency plans for a fire. As a homeowner with a family, you are responsible for preparing anyone for whatever comes your way. Fire and other disasters occur when you are home or away from your other family members. Follow these tips to keep your family safe in any scenario. 

  • Train the kids and other family members – Teach everyone else the basics of fire prevention and preparation. Practice some drills from time to time to keep everyone prepared for an emergency. 
  • Escape routes – Plan the quickest and safest escape routes around your home. Ensure that everyone in your family knows the route for each room. Practice this regularly so that everyone is prepared and calm during an emergency. 
  • Emergency contacts – Print out or write down emergency contacts (emergency service hotlines or relatives and guardians) where they’re easily seen and accessible for the other members of the family and kids.  
  • Pet plan – If you have pets, include them in your emergency plan. 
  • Ready a “go-bag” – Pack some clothes, food, water, first-aid kits, and some cash to take with you when you need to leave home quickly.  
  • Emergency meeting spots – Choose nearby spots and coordinate with your family members to be safe. In case of a fire or any other disaster that separates you from your family, you all know where to meet after. 

What To Do in a Fire Emergency

No matter how much you have made fire prevention and safety a priority in your home, there is always a probability of a fire breaking out. Without knowing how to act in the event of a fire, there is a great chance that you will end up panicking, causing you to make poor decisions and mistakes and wasting precious time. Keep calm and follow this step-by-step guide in case your home is on fire. 

What to do if your house is on fire 

  • Listen to the fire alarm – Apart from a burning smell, one of the early indicators of a fire is the fire alarm (in case you are living in a condominium building). Always be aware of this sound so that you can start evacuating right away. 
  • Take action immediately – Fires can spread rapidly so you may want to take action right away; every second counts. Drop anything that you are doing and follow the rest of the steps. 
  • Alert everyone – The other people in your house may be sleeping or unaware of what is happening. Make sure everyone is alerted and ready to evacuate. 
  • Stay calm – Resist the human urge to panic and run. Doing this will make you vulnerable to tripping and falling, injuries, and making life-threatening decisions.  
  • Skip the material things – Don’t waste any second in gathering up any valuables. Prioritize getting everyone out of the building. Remember that these objects are replaceable, people aren’t. 
  • Don’t try to extinguish the fire – Unless it is only a small fire, do not attempt to put out the flames even if you have a working fire extinguisher. 
  • Feel the door knobs – Moving around your home will have you going through some doors and rooms. Before you open any door though, feel if the door knob is warm or hot.  The metal from the door knob will conduct any heat, indicating there may be a raging fire on the other side. With that being said, keep the door shut and find an alternative for an exit. Wedge damp clothing, towels, or papers in any openings to prevent harmful smoke from entering the room. 
  • Open doors slowly – Even if the door knob does not seem to be warm, open the doors slowly. If doors are opened too quickly, deadly smoke and heat may burst into the room you are in. 
  • Use a window – Exit through the window if all the other exits from your home have been compromised.  
  • Avoid smoke – In fire accidents, most of the deaths are the result of inhaling smoke and toxic fumes. You can avoid this by staying close to the floor, where the air is the purest. 
  • Move to an open area – Once you’re out the burning building, take caution in the space around you as you are still not free from danger’s reach. Walk a good distance away from the house, power lines, trees, and other structures that may collapse on you. Make sure to keep caution of the road for cars or any emergency vehicles that are rushing in. 
  • Call emergency services right away – If you’ve managed to take your phone with you, call emergency services immediately if anyone else hasn’t.  

What to do If there is a fire in your condo 

  • Skip the elevator – Your instincts will make you want to take the elevator as it seems the quickest way down the building, but you shouldn’t. Elevators may get stuck if damaged and they are designed to stop working once the fire alarm is triggered. All buildings are equipped with fire exits and stairways for such emergencies. 
  • Know the building’s evacuation plan – Usually there are printed copies of an evacuation route of your building floor hung on your condo unit’s wall. Simply follow these on your way down and out the building. 
  • Listen to security personnel – Simply follow the security guards’ instructions so that they can lead you to safety. 

How to use a fire extinguisher 

Knowing how to use a fire extinguisher is quite easy, just remember: “Pull, Aim, and Squeeze!” These are usually printed on the sticker on your fire extinguisher. 

  1. Pull – Remove or pull the safety pin from the handle of the extinguisher. 
  2. Aim – Aim the nozzle at the base of the flame. 
  3. Squeeze – Gradually squeeze the handle and trigger to release the contents of the extinguisher and make sure to do a sweeping motion. 

Other things to do during a fire 

  • Stop, Drop, and Roll – When you or your clothing  is on fire, quickly drop to the ground and roll back and forth until the fire is out. 
  • Crawl – If the place is already engulfed in smoke and toxic gases and you need to move, drop down and crawl. The air close to the ground happens to be the least toxic. 
  • Hold your breath – Again, you need to hold your breath as long as you can so as not to inhale any toxic gases from the fire.  

Emergency Hotlines in the Philippines 

If a fire breaks out and you need to call for assistance and alert the authorities, here are numbers to call.

911 

Just like many countries around the world, the number of the national hotline for emergencies for the Philippines is as simple as 911. The operator will send response teams appropriate for any emergency situation. 

BFP Hotline 

Aside from 911, the next number you should be calling for any fire-related emergency should be that of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

  • (02) 8426-0246 
  • (02) 8426-0219 

Philippine Red Cross 

For medical assistance, contact the Philippine Red Cross. The organization has teams and members that are highly trained and most capable of providing paramedical responses around the Philippines.  

Red Cross Hotline Numbers: 

  • 143 
  • (02) 522-0000 
  • (02) 527-83(85 to 95) 

NDRRMC Hotline 

As its name implies, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has regional teams that are trained in doing search-and-rescue operations as well as providing emergency medical assistance for disasters and accidents. 

NDRRMC Luzon Hotline Numbers: 

  • NCR – (02) 421-1918 
  • Cagayan Valley – (078) 844-1630 
  • Ilocos – (072) 607-6528 
  • Central Luzon – (045) 455-1145 
  • Cordillera Administrative Region – (074) 304-2256 
  • MIMAROPA – (043) 723-4248 
  • Calabarzon – (049) 531-7266 
  • Bicol – (052) 481-1656 

NDRRMC Visayas Hotline Numbers: 

  • Western Visayas – (033) 337-6671 or 509-7971 
  • Central Visayas – (032) 416-5025 or 416-5025 
  • Eastern Visayas – (053) 323-8453 

NDRRMC Mindanao Hotline Numbers: 

  • Zamboanga Peninsula – (062) 215-3984  
  • Northern Mindanao – (088) 857-3988 or 875-3907 
  • Davao – (082) 233-2022 or 233-0611 

First Aid for Burn and Fire-Related Injuries 

Once you have escaped the fire, there are other precautions you still need to take for your health. You would have to check if you and the others are unscathed from burns, smoke intoxication, and other fire-related injuries. 

Here are the most common kinds of injuries and how to treat them while waiting for the medical professionals to arrive: 

Burns 

Burns come from heat and the severity is categorized depending on the amount of tissue damage. 

First-Degree Burns – These are easily spotted in the form of swelling, redness, and small blisters. You can also see the appearance of white skin around the affected areas. Pain scales from being uncomfortable to being slightly painful.

First aid for first-degree burns: 

  1. Remove clothing from the affected area 
  2. Run cold water over the affected area 
  3. Apply recommended gels or creams to alleviate pain and to treat the skin 
  4. See a doctor to have the affected area checked in case of infection 

Second-Degree Burns – These are more severe than first-degree burns, as the damage reaches the dermis. You will notice swelling, redness, and larger blisters that ooze liquid. The skin could also scar and tighten and dehydration will occur. The pain from this can scale from moderate to severe.

First aid for second-degree burns: 

  1. Remove clothing from the affected area 
  2. Keep the affected are dry with sterilized cotton or gauzes to avoid infection 
  3. Keep the burnt area elevated to avoid swelling 
  4. Give the injured person plenty of water to drink to prevent dehydration 
  5. Take the injured person to the hospital immediately 

Third-Degree Burns – The damage goes through all layers of the skin and there will be no blisters at all. The injured will also feel no pain as the nerve endings may have been damaged.

First-aid for third-degree burns: 

  1. Do not touch or move the injured 
  2. Wait for medical professionals to arrive and then assist the injured 

Smoke Inhalation 

As mentioned earlier, a good percentage of deaths from a fire happens when the person inhales too much smoke and toxic gases. 

Symptoms

A person has been affected by smoke inhalation when the following symptoms show: 

  • Unconsciousness 
  • Confusion and dizziness 
  • Chest pains 
  • Intense coughing or choking 
  • Difficulty in breathing 
  • Ashes spread around the nose and mouth 
  • Black or gray saliva 
  • Nausea and vomiting 

First Aid 

  • Move the person to an area with fresh air 
  • Place the injured on their side and not on their back 
  • Ensure that the person does not choke on their own phlegm or vomit 
  • If the person is unconscious and not breathing at all, give CPR. 
  • Wait for medical professionals to arrive and assist 

Fire Safety Inspection and Certificates

Before you can move into your home or building or start a business, you will need to secure a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate. Upon application, the BFP will send an inspector to your building to ensure that it is up to standards for safety. 

Other Fire Inspection Checklists 

The Bureau of Fire Protection has many different checklists tailored to different uses for buildings. Here are some of the more basic things that the inspectors look for in homes or in small businesses:  

  • Fire extinguishers 
  • Emergency lights 
  • Standard wiring and proper circuit breakers 
  • Proper installation of gas tanks 
  • Fire alarm and smoke detectors 
  • Building and electrical plans 

For specific business or building types, you can check out this database complete with all the checklists suited for each kind of buildings and types of businesses and their individual requirements. 

Conclusion 

Dry climates and intense heat are right around the corner, and so is the probability for accidents. Be sure to follow this guide to prepare yourself, your family, and your home for any fire-related incidents, especially in the summertime. 

Check out our blogs for more lifestyle and home guides.

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