Emergency! - Domestic Fires
Most fires start at home. Aside from the kitchen where unchecked flames or carelessness could start one, other causes include appliances in the home. Learn the do's and don'ts.
Text by Lyn Chan
Several distracted minutes, an accidental action, a wrong decision taken — this is all it takes for your dinner on the stove to turn into a fiery hazard. Not convinced? Imagine this: a good friend calls while you are frying up your family's favourite stir-fry recipe. You are thrilled to hear from her and walk out into the hall to chat. Minutes have passed by the time you turn back to your stove, and you see that your wok is in flames! What you choose to do next could make the difference between burning down the kitchen or confining the damage.
If you already know that water should never be used to extinguish burning oil, good on you. But should you also stop your husband who, in all bravado, insists on approaching the burning wok to turn off the gas? What if your son comes around with a wet cloth and tries to blanket out the flames? Or should you do as your daughter is commanding, while screaming her lungs out, "Everyone get out! Now!" (Answers at the end of article).Watch video on what to do if a fire breaks out
The kitchen is the most obvious place for a spark to grow into a fiery monster. Leaving the flame unchecked when cooking or boiling water results in the cookware overheating and catching fire. Cranking up the burner too high spells danger when licking flames connect with your flowy, loose-fitting apparel.
Unused electrical appliances left turned on, matches lying around to entice children and flammable objects placed near fire sources are also disasters eager to happen, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force, or SCDF. In fact, figures from SCDF show a worrying uptrend in fires involving electric scooters, although the number of residential fires had dropped from 2,818 in 2016 to 2,603 in 2017.
Prevention is definitely essential; adding a fire extinguisher to your household fire safety checklist provides additional peace of mind. Fires spread fast and furious, and the underrated fire extinguisher plays an important role in diminishing, if not extinguishing, their rage. Go for a dry-chemical model that weighs at least 1.5kg and is PSB-approved, as recommended by the SCDF. And then learn how to use it!
Even if you take all the right measures to prevent a home fire, there is still the possibility of accidentally getting burnt or scalded. Everyone has a view on the correct way to deal with burns and scalds, but some, like the five common ones below, are clear mistakes. Are you guilty of subscribing to any of them? Or are you the perfect first-aid elf to have around?
Generally, all burns, especially those that result in open wounds, must not be iced or even come in touch with ice-cold water because further tissue damage can occur.
Water is soothing and cleansing for first-degree burns, where the skin turns red. Lightly rinse or soak the injured area in clean, cool - not cold - water for at least 10 minutes to release heat.
For chemical burns, like those caused by ordinary household products like bleach, wash off the offending substance. If you have chronic conditions like vascular disease or diabetes, check in with a doctor to avoid complications.
In second-degree burns, blisters form — in this case, also see a doctor. Off to hospital you go if your flesh is burnt, or if your skin has stiffened to a leathery layer with a greyish hue, a sure sign your nerves have been damaged.2
Butter, toothpaste, soy sauce and saliva are effective home remedies
Only if a massive infection is your goal should the above substances be used as remedies. While butter, toothpaste and soy sauce on their own are not harmful, they are likely to be contaminated with bacteria. Butter also retains heat, a no-no when you are trying to release it. Best to keep the butter for kaya toast. Smearing microbe-filled saliva on raw skin right after wolfing down nasi lemak is also another not-so-smart move.
Remember that anytime you coat a burn, the emergency doctor has to work harder to treat the wound as he has to first clean off the substance. You have been warned.
The unbroken skin over a blister is a natural protective barrier against bacteria, allowing the layers of skin beneath to heal without a hitch.
Once the skin covering the burnt area is torn or removed, the new skin is exposed to bacteria, increasing the risk of infection and scarring.4
Clothing stuck to the injured area must be removed, else the wound will not heal properly
Leave it alone and only cut away fabric that is near the burn. If you are tempted to forcibly pull off any attached cloth, think back to when you ripped off a bandage stuck to your skin and how much it hurt. It will be exactly like that, just a lot more painful. Some skin will also come off, leaving you wide open to - you guessed it - an infection.5
Burn treatments are the same for everyone
Apart from having the injury soothed with cool water and covered with sterile gauze, a child requires different treatment from an adult because his immune system would be greatly weakened when he suffers a burn.
Age, location and surface area are crucial factors in determining the outcome of any burn.
Make a beeline for the paediatric emergency room if your child suffers a burn injury. If the burn is spread over a significant area, you had better hurry too. This means if the injured part makes up 10 per cent or more of the body — one palm size is about one per cent — and if the victim is five years or younger.
Medical consultation provided by: Dr Chew Khong Yik, Consultant, Dept of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital
ANSWERS TO OPENING SCENARIO
THE DO'S AND DON'TS
- The best way to prevent fire incidents from escalating into an engulfing inferno is understanding the do's and don'ts in such an emergency. For the opening scenario, the SCDF has this to say:
- Splashing water into a burning pot with flammable liquids like cooking oil or wine would only spread the fire further
- Use a wet cloth or the pot cover to snuff out the fire
- Turn off the gas supply immediately and open all windows to air the area
- Avoid anything that could emit sparks of fire or electricity that could combust. For e.g. do not use your mobile phone on site
- Fight the fire only if you are able to and without endangering yourself and others
Emergency! — Drowning