Igniting that awareness for fire preventionBy Isabel Berenguer Asuncion
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Today was scorching hot! The summer has made its presence felt. As I write, my thermometer shows a reading of 34 degrees on the Celsius scale, many notches higher—and hotter—than the 24 degrees on a Sunday morning not too long ago. In a few weeks, we could be hitting the 36 or 37 degrees of furnace-like heat.
Summer is the time of the year when fires are worst feared. Rightly so, for the highest incidence of fire nationwide happens during this season. With the hope that some awareness can help bring down the numbers, March has been declared as Fire Prevention Month.
Our national records show that putting out fires is something we have not been very good nor quick at. We should really be working on preventing that first burst of flame, or at the very least, keep it from flaring into a full-blown blaze. With some understanding on what fuels or dampens a fire, we can take preventive steps. Here are some things to consider:
- Our built environment is essentially the fuel that feeds the fire. Conversely, fire spreads slowly or can even die out when it has nothing to burn. Choose components that are inherently fire-retardant. Building materials like concrete, gypsum board, metal, cement fiber board, glass and natural stone do not burn easily. Using these materials as main components in a structure can reduce your risks dramatically.
- Check for fire-resistant ratings. There are various fire-rating criteria developed in different parts of the world. These ratings determine the degree at which a substance or material will burn when exposed to a measurable amount of fire, given a fixed amount of time. The rating systems vary per country and so when selecting, ask the sellers or suppliers as to which rating system applies. Do your own research on their definitions and grading too. Flame-retardants prevent fires from igniting and delay “flashover.” the fireball that happens when flammable materials and heat come together and combust. Flame retarders are chemicals that are mixed into the materials or applied as a coat. Examples of these materials are insulation boards or fibers, paints, composite panels, natural and synthetic textile fibers, foam cushions, fabrics and carpets.
- Make sure all your wiring are properly run through conduits—those metal or orange PVC pipes that run inside walls and ceilings, meant to protect your wires from exposure. “Open wiring” is dangerous because it can be nibbled on by rodents and other pests, and is prone to short-circuit and to combustion. EMT (electric metal tubing) is the safest to use, the more affordable and popular PVC that can burn.
- Ensure that your wiring connections have appropriate wire sizes. Too thick and they will consume too much power. If too thin, you run the risk of overloading, overheating and a short circuit.
- Install smoke detectors. You don’t need the complicated, wired and electronically monitored ones. Something from a home depot, battery-operated and with the proper signals for battery replacement, are good enough.
- If you do heavy frying in your kitchen and have an exhaust system to vacuum out your hot air, make sure to check your exhaust ducting, especially at the areas where you have bends. These are the areas where grease will accumulate and can fuel a fire. Some restaurant operators go as far as “swabbing” their ducts to make sure there will be no grease sitting inside.
- Invest in a good number of fire extinguishers. A small 10-pound tank will cost you P300 to refill—a small amount to pay to protect hard-earned property. As a rule, fire extinguishers should be located within every so many meters depending on the size of the rooms, materials used and distance to exit routes, but I’d recommend to have one in each room. Bedrooms and living areas are most prone to ignition since they have the most combustible materials like beddings, curtains and books. When a tank in every room becomes too expensive, a few tanks strategically located around your property could be a good stop-gap measure to what could be a destructive blaze.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of fires, it could be worth tons of hard-earned property.
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