This article was first published in DAWN Magazine on 26th October 2014


Fires in our homes and work places are primarily the result of carelessness. While the loss of property can significantly impact you, it is doing the right thing at the right moment that can prevent further harm to both oneself and one’s property.

Qs. When and how should I use a fire extinguisher?

Advice: In order to fight a fire, you must ask yourself the following questions:

Is the blaze small enough to tackle on your own?

Is your safe passage compromised by fire/smoke?

Don’t be caught unprepared in case of a fire

Has someone raised the alarm and called fire services?

If the blaze is in your home, has someone warned the neighbours?

Do you have the right material to tackle the blaze?

To operate a fire extinguisher remember the acronym PASS.

“PULL” the pin of the extinguisher while holding it straight.

Stand at a safe distance and “AIM” the nozzle of the extinguisher at the base of the fire.

SQUEEZE the handles together and SWEEP side to side, targeting the vase of the fire.

Don’t forget to buy a replacement extinguisher or have the used one refilled.

Qs: What to do or not to do if someone’s clothes catch fire?

Advice: Wrap the person in a fire blanket if available, this is a special blanket that you can get from a safety store. If not available then one most do the following:

The person must STOP moving about, running, flaying arms, etc.

Immediately DROP to the ground and ROLL over and over until the flames are extinguished.

The wounds must be cooled; do so by running room temperature or cool water over the burnt portion. Ice or chilled water must not be used to cool burns.

If you need to cover the victim’s wounds before the ambulance arrives then apply a towel soaked in cool water and wrung out.

Only remove clothing that is not attached to the skin. Do not attempt to pull off clothing that is stuck to the person’s skin. Do not burst any blisters that may form.

Call for an ambulance or personally transfer to the hospital. Remember that all hospitals can provide First Aid (1st and 2nd degree burns) but deeper burns require specialised treatment available only at some hospitals. If you aren’t sure ask the Ambulance Service to guide you.

Qs. What to do if there’s a fire in the home and exit is not easily accessible?

Advice: Wet a cloth and use it to block gaps under the door or in the windows leading to other rooms where there may be fire or smoke. This is done to seal your room against entering smoke.

Do not grab the metal handles as they could be hot; always check the door first to see if it is heated.

Close doors behind you but don’t lock them.

Keep wet cloths to cover face and to cool one self. Protect your lungs:

If it’s still smoky in your room, breathe through a wet towel that covers your nose and mouth. Breathe only through your nose. Grip part of the towel with your lips and teeth. It can help remind you not to breathe through your mouth.

Do not break any windows leading to the house that may let in more smoke. Stay low on the floor if moving through smoke-filled. Communicate your whereabouts by phone if possible, wave through a glass window (take turns if with others) don’t over exert.

Move to a safer room if possible, to one that’s furthest away from the fire. Stay low if moving through smoke filled areas.

Qs. What to do if the cooking pan full of oil catches fire?

Advice: It takes only a few minutes for an unattended pan full of oil to catch fire. Quickly assess if the fire is contained to one spot or is spreading. If it is spreading, then immediately leave the house, assemble at a safe point outside and call fire services.

If you are in a position to tackle the flame then do the following:

Switch off the stove (cutting off the source of heat is important)

If the oil is splashing either put on mitts or wrap a cloth around your arm before turning off the stove.

Cover the pan with its lid or baking tray and allow the flame to extinguish and the pot to cool down.

If the fire doesn’t extinguish throw baking soda on the oil. (works only for small fires). Do not move the pan until it completely cools down.

Qs. Can I apply ice, egg whites, toothpaste to burns?

Advice: Home remedies don’t always work and these are the ones which you must avoid at all costs. Never apply ice to burns. The body temperature can be reduced significantly, and that can cause further harm. Never apply toothpaste. The chemicals contained in toothpaste can cause further damage the skin.

Never apply egg whites. This as with toothpaste and other ointments could cause infections.

Qs. What are the various types of burns and what treatment should be given for them?

Advice: For burns of any type, it is essential that you get treatment, which may be as simple as first aid or could require specialist care depending on the degree of burns.

It’s important to understand the classifications of burns and know the requisite treatment.

1st Degree burns can be easily identified: there may be some swelling. The skin turns red and there could be pain Cool the burn with running normal water until it feels better and the burning sensation has gone. Wrap the area loosely with a gauze bandage and take an over the counter pain killer.

Remember if the burns cover a significant portion of the hands, feet, face, or some major joint then seek emergency medical assistance at the nearest hospital or clinic.

2nd Degree burns can easily be easily identified: the skin starts blistering or turns deep red. Severe swelling occurs and pain is significantly felt.

If the burnt area showing these signs is not larger than three inches then the treatment is similar to 1st degree burns. However any burn larger than that or on the face, hands, feet or other major joints must be treated at the hospital.

Signs of 3rd Degree burns are: the skin may be charred or appear dry and white. The person may experience difficulty in breathing. The skin may be peeling away from the bones.

Muscle, bone even fat may be affected

This is a major burn and requires immediate evacuation to hospital. While transporting to the hospital, you can apply a cool moist gauze bandage over the affected area. Do not remove clothes stuck to the skin. Do not immerse the person in cold water.

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