John Dickie: Help us to help you keep fire at bay

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After a week which has seen three tragic deaths in house fires in Edinburgh, John Dickie explains why everyone needs to be thinking about about fire safety in the home.

Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the loved ones and friends of those killed in the three terrible house fires which occurred across our city last week.

No matter how quickly we can get a fire engine to those that need rescue, it has been proven that prevention is the best strategy for reducing deaths and casualties from fire. We should not be complacent in that fire can touch all sections of society and all house-
holders should take steps to 
prevent it.

One of the first steps should be to ensure that a working smoke detector is in place. We as a fire and rescue service can help with this by offering a free home safety visit for all those who request it. These visits are available to everyone who lives in the area; however, it is often difficult to target vulnerable residents with this important help and advice.

We need your help.

By telling your friends, family and those you meet through your work about the home safety visits, and passing on the free number, you could save a life. Of course, the same goes for you too, so why not get one for yourself?

During a visit, two firefighters will call at the home, offer advice on fire safety matters such as the safe use of electrical appliances, candles and the safe disposal of smoker materials, as well as highlighting potential hazards of cooking. They will also supply and fit a free smoke detector with ten-year batteries if needed.

These visits are free and confidential. The number to call to arrange one or to access fire safety information is 0800 169 0320, or instead visit

Cooking is a very common cause of house fires. Leaving the kitchen while you are cooking can have serious consequences, as can cooking when you have been drinking 
alcohol. Also, never dry or hang anything on or above the cooker – this is an accident waiting to happen.

Chip pans are extremely 
dangerous, as there is little control over the temperature of the oil in the pan. If the oil overheats, the resulting fire very quickly gets out of control, giving you very little time to react and get out of harm’s way. Thermostat-controlled fryers are a better option as they have a cut-out mechanism which can stop the oil overheating.

If you do own a chip pan and it catches fire, never try to move the pan, and never ever throw water over it. If you can do so safely, try to turn off the heat but most importantly, get out of the room and shut the door and call the Fire and Rescue Service by phoning 999.

A popular item over winter is an electric blanket. Your blanket must have the BEAB approved mark. 
Electric blankets don’t last forever; after the guarantee runs out, it needs to be serviced or replaced.

A few other tips for electric blanket safety are: never leave an electric blanket switched on all night, unless it’s marked “suitable for all night use”, check the blanket, plug and cable regularly for damage, and when storing the blanket roll it, don’t fold it. However, most importantly, if you are in any doubt at all, do not use the 

Fire safety is something that everyone should be thinking about – please start to think about it now.

As we move into the winter months the risks become greater with increased use of candles, heaters, festive lights and all that comes with darker nights and colder days.

Please consider the risks and protect yourselves and your families and if you would like any advice or guidance, please contact us.

Lastly, if you do ever hear a smoke detector going off please call 999. We are hearing of instances where people do not call for fear of calling us out for a false alarm. The fact is that we would prefer this than being called out too late to a fire that has taken hold of somebody’s home.

If we guard against fire and take these preventative steps, we hope that the next time you see a fire engine at the bottom of your street, the crew will be carrying out fire safety advice work – not dealing with another tragedy.

• John Dickie is Deputy Assistant Chief Officer at Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service