Lastega ja lastele

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Have you unplugged your mobile phone charger?

A year has gone by since the tragic events in Haapsalu. The tragic event served as a reminder of how dangerous fire can be.

My 4-year-old daughter saw Greece on fire with protests on the news and said: “Is it not that you are not supposed to play with matches and fire?” Yes, of course – she was right. Thousands of years ago, people tamed fire to generate heat and cook, cleverly making an element in nature work for them. Throughout the ages, however, people have also been exposed to the destructive nature of fire, evident, in the worst case, when fire is used carelessly or incorrectly.

Though we all aware, from a rather young age, that playing with fire is dangerous, the majority of fires are caused when the simple rules learnt from when we were very young are ignored. How familiar are we in our everyday lives with elementary preventive measures and how well do we follow fire safety rules in order to make sure our homes do not go up in a blaze?

Depressing statistics from the Estonian Rescue Board

According to statistics from the Estonian Rescue Board, 2011 saw 73 people die in fires in Estonia. The statistic also includes the tragic deaths of 8 children and 2 grown-up charges of the Haapsalu Children’s Home.
When we see yet another news story on TV or in the paper about a horrible fire, most of us think that this could never happen to me, as in our home everything is under control. We all know the saying that bad things happen to good people; yet the true meaning of this may dawn on someone when it is all but too late. Knowing the causes of the most common fires in Estonia, the majority of fires are preventable if fire safety equipment – available to anyone – is used, and simple fire safety rules are followed.

Having no smoke detector

Of the people who died in fires in Estonia last year, 50 lost their lives in a building with no fire detector installed. But even the most modern safety features may prove of no avail, as they are but half the battle when ensuring fire safety. I have heard people explain that they totally have a smoke detector, but that its battery went flat just the day before ... Yet the smoke detector is no good if it is lying in the cupboard, with no battery inside! Each home in Estonia should have the necessary equipment inspected and relevant information updated to prevent any unexpected or tragic events.

Unattended fire

Last year, almost 38% of the deaths were caused by the use of an open flame. The analysis by the Estonian Rescue Board states that the most common source of an open flame is a candle left unattended. Any child will tell you that a burning candle should be never left unattended! Can we, however, say, hand on heart, that we have never left a burning candle “for just a moment or two” to go next door or upstairs?

A conflagration that started in the living room

Of fires, 39% begin in the living room. It would seem logical for fires to get started in the kitchen, with a skillet sizzling on a high flame. Statistics, however, indicate that the most fires get started in the living room, instead: as many as 28 people died in fires like that last year. Often, good times in the company of family and friends are had in the living room by sampling wine and adding cosiness to the setting with candles. Yet in good company, one may get distracted easily, and a fun party may end in unexpectedly painful consequences.

Alcohol and smoking in bed

Many dead are known to have been intoxicated by alcohol at the time of a fire breaking out, with careless smoking starting the fire. As is well-known, one of the most common causes of deaths in fires is smoking on a couch after consuming alcohol or smoking in bed. You may think that since you don’t smoke, and smoking is ruled out in my home, it cannot happen! But perhaps there is a neighbour next door who decides to smoke in an armchair while helping himself to fire water in the company of his friends, with the situation potentially getting out of control...

Careless or thoughtless conduct

Of deaths, 84% were in fires caused by carelessness. It takes only one match for a Christmas tree to catch on fire; the tree, however, will burn down in just five minutes. A rubbish bin catching on fire is not just a way for a fire to break out as seen in films. Alas, it is very common to thoughtlessly lay a pretty rag rug or throw a pile of old newspapers before a stove, to have something handy to kindle the fire with next time. That way, ideal conditions are set up for sparks spilling from the door of the stove to unleash a calamity of fire inside the home. The consequences of the fire do not depend on the scale of carelessness – a minor thoughtless move may end in an immeasurably great loss.

Using electrical and heating equipment

Carelessness or a fault in using electrical and heating equipment, too, causes fires. It is thought that functioning electrical equipment cannot start a fire. Yet for years there have been calls to the scenes of fires where they were started by the plugged-in cable of a blow dryer, with a dozen or so fires where a short-circuit fault has been caused by a washing machine plugged into the power grid or where a mobile phone charger left plugged into the socket has proven the root of the evil.

The drill encompassed both theory and practice

It is important to raise the level of awareness of ourselves and our children in order to prevent hazardous situations from occurring. Children living in foster homes mostly come from families where no positive example has been set by a parent. In view of that, SEB Heategevusfond (SEB Charity Fund) developed a fire safety project carried out in partnership with the Ministry of the Interior and the Rescue Board. Last January and February, the Rescue Board toured all of the substitute homes and shelters across Estonia with a drill, as a part of which experts shared fire safety knowledge and skills with 1200 children. The drill included a discussion of how a fire is started and how it evolves, and of what to do when a fire occurs. Exciting model lessons provided instruction on how to assess a hazardous situation caused by a flame, heat or smoke; how to assist a person at risk, while ensuring the safety of the person assisting; and much more.

Safety and a sense of security begin with us

Although the relevant ministries and agencies are constantly involved with issues related to fire safety and organising drills, everyone has to do all they can to rein in the painful statistics of fires, so that a fire does not stand a chance of even being started. The most effective methods of prevention are responsible conduct, the example of parents and teachers, following safety rules, and teaching them to one’s children and those in one’s care.

Already during ancient times it was known that fire makes a good servant but a poor master. Rescuers, families who have lost their homes and, through the media, most people in Estonia have been sent the message, loud and clear, about how bitter a truth is hidden in the saying: a thief will leave the peg in the wall, a fire won’t even leave that much. Each and every one of us, as citizens, are responsible for our own safety and for that of our friends and family. Perhaps, to do this year’s good deed, we should not wait for the Christmas cheer or the year-end when good deeds are a given. Tonight, for instance, slip a smoke detector into your basket of groceries and give it to the family living near you, who might need it. That way, the lives of more than one family and children living in it will become safer, with the leaping flames but a figure of speech or a symbol of warning painted on paper during a lesson at school.

May your homes stay safe and last long,

Triin Lumi

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