When we’re looking after a family or friend, chances are we’re already familiar with healthcare services. But how can fire and rescue services (F&RS) help us?
With the colder months approaching and the cost of living going up, we may be tempted to find cheaper ways to stay warm. Lighting candles, or using blankets close to fires.
It may be that the person we care for has mobility challenges, hearing or sight impairment or lives independently which makes it harder for them to spot the signs of a fire.
It’s not only a fire situation when the F&RS will come to help us It could be any incident such as being trapped at home due to flooding or building damage. If we live in a flat, we should also consider the accessibility of the building.
In our blog, we’ll explore:
Five ways the Fire and Rescue Services can help carers
Firstly, it’s always a good idea to know what help is already out there.
“We had the fire service do a home visit and link the fire alarm sensors with the care alarm that calls the fire brigade if we don’t respond to cancel it e.g. if I burned the toast. It records us if we say fire too in the kitchen.” - Unpaid carer
Although fires may seem rare to us, we should be aware of the risks and signs of a fire. Here are some of the ways the fire service can help.
1. Carry out free home fire safety checks
The Fire and Rescue Services offers free home fire safety visits either to us or the person we care for. If we live in London, we can book the home fire safety visit at a time that suits us here, or call them for free on 0800 028 4428.
If we don't live in London, see the full list of UK Fire and Rescue services here to see how we can book a safety home visit from their site.
2. Install smoke alarms
If during the visit we find out we need new smoke alarms, the Fire and Rescue Services can fit these for free, on the same day. They can also advise us as to the best positioning of alarms for any room in the home where a potential fire can start.
3. Help plan escape routes for
If we, or anyone we live with, will find it difficult to escape quickly in an emergency, the Fire and Rescue are able to visit our home and help us plan our escape route.
During the free home fire safety visit which we can book here, they will provide tailored advice, touching on sprinkler systems or special fire detection options that can help.
“I’ve heard lots of people get tailored support from the Fire Brigade when it comes to escape plans. For example, if the person cannot use stairs they may be able to keep a note against that property so they are aware if called out to a fire. Or, they may advise the person is left in the room until the fire brigade arrives rather than being evacuated” - Unpaid carer
4. Use the Home Fire Safety Checker
We can check the fire safety of our own home, and the person we care for’s home (if we don’t live with them), using London Fire Brigade’s online safety checker. It’s free, includes a step-by-step guide for each room, and takes less than five minutes to do.
5. Watch the Carers Guide to Home Fire Safety
The Fire Brigade has a helpful Carers Guide to Home Fire Safety video. Created for those of us looking after a family member or friend and includes key signs to look out for and ways to minimise risks.
Asking ourselves a few questions can also give us an idea of the things we need to do or tweak in our emergency planning. Whether we have it written down, or currently a rough idea:
Does the person we care for have the ability to react or respond to a fire?
Do they have a vision or hearing impairment which will make it harder for them to spot the signs of a fire?
Do they have a mobility issue which makes them less able to escape in the event of a fire?
Are we aware of the implications some health equipment or creams can have in the spread of fires? If not, take a look at some that we’ve listed below.
Health equipment and the spread of fires
1. Air mattresses
Some of us may be familiar with air mattresses, (also known as an ‘airflow pressure mattress’). Air is pumped into the mattress and we can adjust it to the person we care for’s needs. One of the benefits this brings is helping to provide pressure relief.
The implications of air mattresses on the spread of fires
As the mattress is filled with air, any source of direct heat (such as candles) that punctures the mattress, can cause the escaping air to spread fire quickly. There’s an even greater risk if the air mattress is still plugged into a socket.
To minimise any risks of a fire starting:
Do not smoke close to the air mattress
Keep heaters or candles away from the air mattress
Never use an electric blanket on the air mattress
Never charge any electrical tools or devices that can get hot quickly next to the air mattress (i.e. hair straightener, or multiple phone devices)
2. Oxygen equipment (i.e. prescribed oxygen)
If the person we are looking after has a respiratory condition, they may have specialist oxygen equipment, (also known as ‘oxygen therapy’). This can include oxygen cylinders or portable units. These help to provide more oxygen than normal to the person we care for.
The implications of oxygen equipment on the spread of fires
Similar to the air mattresses, adding more oxygen into a room increases the intensity of a fire, if there is one.
To minimise any risks of a fire starting:
Don’t smoke near the oxygen equipment
Don’t use candles, oil burners or incense sticks near oxygen equipment
Turn the oxygen equipment off when it’s not in use
3. Emollient and skin creams
We hear lots of carers talk about emollient creams, ointments, gels, and sprays in the Mobilise community. Emollient and skin creams are helpful to prevent and treat dry skin conditions such as eczema, ulcers, or psoriasis. Helping to relieve some discomfort for the person we look after.
The implications of emollient and skin creams on the spread of fires
As emollient and some skin creams contain oil, it can be easier for them to be transferred onto bedsheets, clothing, or any fabric that the person we care for comes into contact with. Although emollients and skin creams are safe to use, they can leave a flammable residue on fabrics.
To minimise any risks of a fire starting:
Be careful with loose clothing that can catch on fire easily (i.e. when leaning over a hot hob)
Keep emollient and skin creams (both paraffin-based and paraffin-free) away from naked flames
Keep lighted candles away from any fabric/clothes
Frequently wash and change bedsheets
Follow the instructions on the packaging or ask the GP for advice
What is the SHERMAN protocol?
The SHERMAN protocol is an easy framework to remember when thinking about fire safety. It lists out groups that more likely to be vulnerable to the signs of a fire, and less likely to escape quickly.
It’s helpful to apply these factors when looking at our own situation.
Elderly people or people who live independently
Reduced mobility, hearing or sight impairments
Mental health conditions
Alcohol or drug dependence
Needing care or support
How we can reduce the risks of a fire at home
To reduce the risks of a fire around the home, there are a number of things we can do:
Do not smoke indoors
Make sure smoke alarms work
Reduce unwanted clutter with simply tidying up and getting rid of rubbish regularly.
Check if your local council offers grants for fire protection equipment (such as fire-proof bedding, curtains, or carpets)
Do not rely on candles, hobs or any sort of naked fire to heat up the room
Do not place candles, incense sticks and oil burners in multiple rooms without anyone in it
Do not overload a power socket or an extension cords
Make sure cooking is never left unattended
Seven safety tips for electrical devices
With lots of new innovative electrical devices on the market, we may have accumulated a great collection of them, from air fryers to tablet devices, that we put on charge daily.
In addition to the tips on reducing the risks of a fire at home, here are seven safety reminders when managing our electrical devices:
Unplug appliances and chargers when we’re not using them.
Look out for broken electrical cables. Do not duct tape over broken wires - they are not insulated.
Ensure extension cords are not close to water (or dripping water)
With lightbulbs, consider LED as they’re less likely to radiate more heat. They are also more energy efficient.
Don’t link together multiple extension cables
Keep unused cables tidy and organise. The are some affordable cable organisers we can purchase to help us. Or we can use zip ties to help organise them.
Buy electrical items and chargers from reputable companies by looking out for the ‘CE’ mark for the ‘UKCA’ mark to be assured of safety standards.
We hope you managed to find some useful tips and information on different ways the fire services can help us.
If you have any questions on anything to do with caring, feel free to pop them in our friendly Mobilise Community for unpaid carers. We believe the best way to learn is from hearing from other carers' lived experiences, so we'd love to have you there.
And, don't forget to also spread the message by sharing this with those you think can also benefit.