Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: fire safety can save your life

Do you know what to do in a fire emergency? Source: AAP

A fire breaks out in your house - do you know what to do? Many new arrivals to Australia aren't aware of the dangers of home fires.

House fires are dangerous and can often deadly.  Each year, 50 people die in house fires and more than one thousand are seriously burnt according to Fire Protection Association Australia.  NSW Fire and Rescue is one of the world's largest city fire services.

Community Safety Coordinator David Weir says when English is not a person's first language, it can be hard to communicate in an emergency.

"There is an ongoing language barrier: we are very aware of that. We have developed close partnership with the service providers and also key stakeholders around the states, to ensure that if we require any persons to assist us to speak with or to communicate with a new arrival, or a new and emerging community or a transient international student, we have that capability to call them and have the three-way conversation over the phone."

Some migrants can be apprehensive of fire services because of the uniforms they wear.  David Weir says some people think that they are part of the military and this can create additional hurdles.

"A lot of the Asian communities upon arrival in Australia were very unaware that we were not associated with the military 'cause of our uniform, which can sometimes look like the military or the police. And unfortunately, some of the fire services were quite aggressive with the persons who were having an incident or needed assistance and they were associated with the military."

Some people believe the fire service will charge them a fee and some are suspicious of letting fire crews onto their property.

Weir explains, "They believe that there might be a cost of some type which there is not and they're quite reluctant to call the Fire Services putting themselves at great risk and their families. There were several instances when I have been notified by stations officers and crews in regards to not being allowed to access the property. Under the Fire Act of Australia, we are obliged when there is a fire call to act and respond accordingly and support the persons of need".

Almost half of all fires start in the kitchen during the evening between 5 and 7pm. Weir says some new Australians aren't aware of the dangers of cooking fires.

"We've dealt with a particular family, a north-Sudanese family who settled in the Wagga district and unfortunately through unsafe practices, they burned the first house that they were living in down.  They relocated to another property and unfortunately, they lost that property also. They were able to knock the problem out and sort out what they were doing wrong. 'Unsafe cooking practices' was one element, but also cooking in different areas of the house, which were unsafe also."

A small oil fire can suddenly ignite on the stove. David Weir says our instincts often tell us to pour water on it. However, he says we should never pour water on oil, instead isolate the fire.

"50% of fires that we attend are from the kitchen area. We ask new arrivals also humanitarian entrants to be very, very aware of a danger they put themselves in a kitchen area and we ask them to have a working smoke alarm on the premises. We also ask them to have an evacuation plan and a home escape plan in place.  So, if the incident does arise or fire does occur in the kitchen area, isolate that area.  Close the doors, leave the area and exit outside and call the emergency services, the fire rescue on 000."

Every household should have a fire blanket and a fire extinguisher. Weir says new migrants may not be familiar with these items or know how to use them.

"A fire blanket is a fire safety medium that can be utilised on a small pot fire or a small fire around the house. An extinguisher can be utilised for a larger fire - but not too large - and they can extinguish it quite safely. If they are not confident to use these mediums, we advise the community evacuate the premises, compartmentalise, close the door so the fire does not spread too fast and call 000 and wait on the road for assistance."

Smoke alarms give off a high-pitched warning at the first sign of smoke. Metropolitan Fire Brigade Victoria says without a working smoke alarm, you are 4 times more likely to die in a house fire.  The NSW Adult Population Health Survey says 94 per cent of households across NSW have smoke alarms installed. The remaining 6% without working smoke alarms make up half of the calls to Fire and Rescue Services. David Weir says everyone should check they have smoke alarms installed and working.

"Since May 2006 smoke alarms in NSW are legal, they're law. So you must have a working smoke alarm in the property, where you reside. If the person is renting it is a landlord's responsibility. The maintenance of a smoke alarm is the occupant's, the tenant's. They must understand when they first arrive to Australia, once they settle into a new residence the smoke alarm should be there and it should be working to save them or their families if the incident occurs. Give them that early warning."

Fire and Rescue NSW recommends replacing your smoke alarm batteries once a year.  David Weir shares some tips on how to prevent fires.

"Always keep an eye on your cooking. Never leave it unattended. In winter which is the most dangerous period do not overload the electrical circuits. Also, with heating appliances make sure you have at least a distance of one meter from the heater. If you also got candles in your household, please ensure you blow them out before you leave the premises or when you leave the room, if a candle does fall over, it won't ignite. Also to ensure that you have at least one working smoke alarm, an operating home escape plan."

Ultimately in the case of a fire, call 000.

"If you cannot call and speak in a particular language to call 000 and just say the word 'fire' and we'll be able to locate you and respond according to your requirements."

Fire and Rescue NSW has fire safety fact sheets available in 27 languages. For more information visit