This extra step is key to safety in the winter fire season

Grenfell Tower
The blaze at London's Grenfell tower cost 79 people their lives. Image: Secular Talk

If your house went up in flames, you could have just 15 seconds to escape, according to advice from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES).

That means there’s no no time to grab your most treasured possessions, and there may not even be enough time to find your keys. That’s why you need an escape plan.

“The Grenfell Tower fire in the UK has sent a shudder through Australia’s property industry,” Ken Morrison, the Property Council of Australia’s chief executive, says. “The speed of the fire, its deadly consequence and the realisation that the loss of so many lives was avoidable is all so difficult to fathom.”

There were 554 household fires in Queensland alone last winter, QFES data shows.

“These months typically see the highest number of structure fires compared to any other period of the year,” Mark Ryan, the state’s fire and emergency services minister, says. “It’s important for everyone in your household to discuss, prepare and practice an escape plan so, if a fire occurs, everyone knows what to do.”

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Ryan says that an escape plan should include having two ways to escape each room in the house. There should also be a heavy object nearby if glass needs to be broken, and spare keys to unlock any doors.

He suggests practicing the plan in a realistic environment by “using a blindfold and crawling on all fours”. In the case of a fire, it’s best to keep low to the ground to avoid as much smoke as possible. 

With vision easily impaired by smoke, it’s important to ensure that the easiest escape paths are always kept clear. Everyone in the house should know their nearest and best exit, including where any keys are, and where to meet with others once outside. 

If you are ever unable to leave the house during a fire, you should place yourself in the room furthest from the fire and open a window to let in fresh air while you call for help.

Many fires are started by faulty electrical cords, electric blankets and kitchen mishaps, and most fires start at night when occupants are asleep. This is why having a working smoke alarm is so important.

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It’s also worth checking whether your smoke alarms meet minimum requirements for quality and placement within your house.

Safety experts recommend interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms that could help to alert your entire household to potential danger before the situation gets out of hand.

That’s because photoelectric smoke alarms work by detecting visible particles of combustion for a wide range of fires, so are much faster at detecting smouldering or smoke. They’re also less likely to be set off by a small mishap in the kitchen.

Regardless of your type of alarm, Choice advises replacing them every 10 years.

“We already have high building standards in Australia,” Morrison says, “but if there are lessons to learn from the UK, then we should learn them.”

Do you have a fire escape plan in your house?