JUNE MOH and AUDREY VIJAINDREN
KUALA LUMPUR: A TOTAL of 107 people died in fires last year, and 477 were injured. In 2015, there were 153 fire deaths with 467 injured.
Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said the department responded to 1,263 house fires last year and 1,319 in the previous year.
“Although the number of cases and deaths has dropped, we should never take this issue lightly, especially house fires that have killed many people, including children.
“For example, three people, including two girls, were killed when their terrace house at Taman Wangsa Permai caught fire on Feb 12. Then, on Feb 6, four people in a family were killed when their double-storey home at Jalan USJ 2/3, Subang Jaya, was destroyed,” he said.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said parents and caregivers must always stress the importance of safety at home.
Lee said they should never allow children to handle electrical or other home appliances without supervision.
“They must educate their children on how to react when an accident happens at home.
“Each house must also have a first-aid kit and all the important phone numbers in case of emergency,” Lee said.
He said electrical appliances, such as iron, electric kettle and oven, and gas stove, should only be operated by adults and they must also take precautionary measures to avoid mishaps involving children.
“If parents and other adults at home keep a close eye on children, they could minimise the risk of them getting injured by fire, or scalded by hot water or home appliances.
“Our homes should be a safe sanctuary and not a death trap when fire occurs,” he said.
According to the statistics provided by the Fire and Rescue Department, he said, tragic incidents occurred during fires were due to the lack of basic fire safety equipment at home, and the use of grilles on windows and doors.
He said most families also did not have an escape or rescue plan.
“As a preparation to face fire, house occupants must ensure that exit routes are not obstructed. It is best to have several routes to safety,” he said.
He said high level of awareness on fire prevention would be able to reduce the number of house fires and related deaths and injuries.
Fire Prevention Centre (FPC) regional manager Brandon Lee said in recent years, one of the main causes of fire in homes was power overloading, especially in urban areas.
“Everyone in the house now has an iPad or a smartphone. If previous cases of fire injuries were from kitchen appliances, such as the stove and toaster oven, these days the danger is in these high-tech equipment, which could be just as dangerous or more due to short circuit and power overload,” he said.
FPC’s work in educating and bringing awareness to the public, especially schoolchildren, he said, had seen more people starting to take precautions on the safety issues at home.
“Kids need to be taught that if the television suddenly goes off, they shouldn’t try to pull the plug immediately. They must go to an adult or turn off the main switch at the switch box.
“Pulling or fiddling with the main socket could easily cause it to explode and start a fire. This poses a serious fire hazard,” said FPC assistant manager Paul Cheang.
“Also, with every child having a gadget, they must know that they should not use their tech items while they are charging as this can cause a short circuit and they might get seriously hurt.”
Another new electrical fire hazard, Cheang said, was hair curling irons.
“Any heating element left too long unattended can be life threatening to the person and to the home.”
He said kids, especially those below the age of 5, should be taught about fire hazards through graphics.
“Different age groups grasp information differently. Those in primary school respond better to pictures while those in secondary school are more in tune with what’s passed down through social media.”
FPC is working on a social media application to teach kids and teens about fire safety, which will be available for free in the next few months,
Cheang said parents should ensure that the home was equipped with a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.
“At present, only between five and eight per cent of households have fire extinguishers. The problem is that one doesn’t think about the need to have these things until it is too late.
“With small burns, there should be medication on hand. Trying to use toothpaste or other home remedies might worsen the child’s condition.”
He said children should be informed where the house keys were kept in the event of a fire.
“They need to be able to rush out to their neighbour’s house to ask for help instead of handling the situation themselves.
“Never get your children to put out a fire by themselves,” Cheang said.
Electrical appliances, such as air-conditioners, should be replaced every six years, he added.
“While it may seem costly, every household should invest in a fire alarm, gas alarm, smoke detector and cooker hood.
“Kids also should be taught that if they or someone else is injured, or there is a fire in the house, they should dial 112 to get immediate help.”
Those who are seeking more information on fire safety can contact the Fire Prevention Centre through its Facebook page or visit its website at www.firepreventioncentre.com.my.