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Riskiest time of the year for home fires brings timely warning.

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22 May 2012
Famke was just two years old when a flame from a faulty gas heater ignited her pyjamas, extensively burning the back of her legs. Three years on, Famkeā€™s ordeal continues.

Hearing the screams that Saturday morning, Famke’s parents Gretha Oost and Willem ran into the lounge room to find their daughter on fire.

In a matter of seconds they had extinguished the flames and stripped Famke’s pyjamas off, but the damage was done and Famke was facing lasting scars and a lengthy recovery, including many skin grafts over a number of years.

“It happened so quickly,” said Gretha.  “There are so many ways it could have been avoided – we should have chased my landlord to fix the heater, we should have had a screen in front of the heater, we should have been in the room with my girls when the heater was on.”

Gretha and Famke today joined with Victoria’s fire services and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services Peter Ryan in calling on all Victorians to take responsibility for their home fire safety.

In the past ten years there have been 164 fatalities from residential fires and countless injuries.  Winter is the riskiest time of the year for fires in the home in Victoria with about 1000 homes fires each year.

At today’s launch at the Royal Children’s Hospital Minister Ryan said there is really no excuse for these statistics.

“Most fatal fires in Victoria occur in people’s homes and, sadly, most of them can be prevented.”

“I cannot stress enough the importance of every person in our state taking action to prevent fires starting in their home in the first place, and knowing what to do if a fire does start.

“At a bare minimum, having a working smoke alarm could save your life.”

Minister Ryan said he hoped that through greater awareness of the dangers of residential fires the number of home fires would continue to drop.

“In 2011, we had 18 fewer residential fires than we did in 2010. Let’s make 2012 even lower,” he said.

Director of The Royal Children’s Hospital Burns Unit, Dr Russell Taylor, said any burn requiring hospitalisation resulted in months or years of recovery, and most left lasting physical reminders.

“Recovery from a burn, such as the one Famke received, takes many years,” he said.

“Already she has received two skin grafts and we expect she will need two more before she is 18.”

MFB Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer Frank Stockton said reducing the risk of fire in your home is not difficult.

“There’s a number of really simple actions people can take that may end up saving their life.  You can check your home fire safety by visiting,” he said.

“You’ll be asked to carry out basic checks, such as whether your smoke alarm is working, and encouraged to get professional checks annually on your heater and your electric blanket.

“You will also receive support to develop your home fire escape plan. For instance, if you can’t get out your front door, is there another exit you can use? And have you talked to friends and family – particularly those who are elderly – about their fire safety plans?”

Mr Stockton said keeping clothing at least a metre away from heaters, turning them off when you go to bed and never leaving cooking unattended greatly reduced the risks of fire.

Of the 1,042 residential fires in Victoria last winter, 37 per cent started in the kitchen, 14 per cent in the lounge room and 10 per cent in the bedroom.

Leaving cooking unattended was the main cause of residential fires in Victoria last year, responsible for 25 per cent of incidents. This was followed by electrical faults (11 per cent) and heating malfunctions (10 per cent).

Residential fires last winter resulted in an estimate $20 million in damages last winter and six lives were lost.

Tips for being fire safe in your home this winter:
• Complete a simple fire safety check list
• Plan and practice your fire escape plan with your family
• If a fire starts, get out and stay out. Call 000
• Talk with your friends and family about what to do in an emergency
• Check your electric blanket, heater and other electric appliances for broken or worn wiring
• Don’t overload your power boards
• Don’t deadlock yourself in your home
• Make sure your smoke alarm is working
• Dry your clothes at least a metre away from heaters
• Use fire screens on open fires
• Put fires out and turn off heaters before going to bed
• Never leave candles unattended

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Facts and Features
Safety Tip

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authority Council (AFAC) recommends monthly testing of smoke alarms to ensure they are working correctly.

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Only working Smoke Alarms save lives.

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