Christmas Fire Safety

Allan Rotchell is a retired Senior Fire Officer with 36 years’ experience, he has attended many fires in people’s homes, some with tragic circumstances.

Here are Allan’s tips for a safe Christmas for your family.


The Essentials for a Safe Christmas

Smoke Detectors:

The most important thing you can have in your home is one or more working smoke detectors.
Test yours now to make sure they are working: if the test button is hard to reach without climbing
on steps or because it is over the stairs, use a garden cane or plant stick to help you reach!

•Test your smoke detectors at least once every month, I test mine weekly

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•Strobe light and vibrating pad alarms are available for those who are deaf or hard of hearing
•If it is a year or more since you changed the battery then buy your detector/s an early Christmas present – a new battery, fit it now!
•If they are forever going off every time you turn on the grill or cooker; replace them with “optical” smoke detectors as they are less prone to false alarms from cooking.
•If you don’t have any smoke detectors in your home you need to get some now, your local fire service (see below) may be able to help with this, if not you can buy them in DIY stores or online.

The ideal standard is to have mains powered detectors with a battery back-up, these have to be fitted by a qualified electrician, if this is too expensive then stand-alone battery powered detectors are very good.
Detectors should be located on the ceiling, in a house locate one at the bottom of the stairs not too close to the kitchen and one at the top of the stairs, in flats they should be in your hallway.
If the base of your stairs is in the lounge or dining room then fit a detector in that room.

For more advice:
West Midland Fire Service 0800 389 5525
Staffordshire Fire Service 0800 0241 999

Shut Doors at Night:

This is so simple, the last thing at night shut the doors to those risk rooms, the kitchen, the lounge, the dining room. Many people don’t like to have their bedroom door shut and if you have young
children you want bedroom doors open so you can hear them, that’s fine but shut all of the other doors. A standard house door if shut will often hold a fire and smoke back for up to 20 minutes if it is fully shut!

Escape Plan:

So, let’s imagine the worst! Its night time and you are all in bed when: the smoke alarm sounds, what do you do? What is your escape plan?

•Does everyone know what it is?
•Do the children know what to do if they hear the smoke alarm at night i.e. come into your bedroom and wake you up if you are still sleeping?
•Do the children know about getting down low and getting under the smoke?
•Where are the door or window keys?
•Do the children know how to dial 999 for the fire service?

Escape plans never include jumping out of windows but do you have alternative ways out and if so what are they?

Now I know some of this sounds a bit scary and you don’t want to worry or frighten your children about fire, but it surely isn’t any scarier than “Stranger Danger” and I am sure you talk to your children about that!

So, make a game of it and be upstairs with your children in their rooms, sound the smoke alarm and wriggle on your tummies into your room and wake up Mommy or Daddy, put on your dressing gown and all get together and go carefully downstairs, why not shuffle downstairs on your bottoms, children love that!

The best thing you can have for your escape plan is –yes, have smoke detectors and shut doors!

Clothing on Fire:

Whilst we are talking about teaching your children about fire safety there is one more important lesson they need, what to do if your clothing catches fire! Another scary subject that can be made into a fun game. The fire service teaches this in schools and it is easy to remember:


So again, play this game, the children are walking around the room and you say “what do we do if our clothes catch fire” then you shout STOP and the children stand still almost in an “at attention” stance. Then you shout DROP and they drop to the floor, then you shout ROLL and they roll over and over on the floor, they really enjoy that bit. If you demonstrate it first and then do it with them it’s good fun and we know they remember it and the fire service have documented evidence of children doing this for themselves and helping brothers and sisters

Cooking Safety:

We all know the old joke “Do you use wine when you are cooking? Yes, and sometimes I even put some in the food!” So, if you do have a glass or two when cooking at Christmas you need to be a little careful!

Common faults are:

•Big turkey, small meat tray – overflowing juices in the oven catch fire
•Tea towels and oven gloves too close to the hob
•Hob left unattended when visitors arrive and food burns
•Christmas pudding brandy flames setting fire to Christmas decorations or paper hats!


Candles should be securely fixed in the holder or candlestick, if it’s a bit wobbly or loose, use some “silver foil” around the base of the candle to pad it out. Think about where you are placing the candle:
•Is it directly underneath paper decorations?
•Is it close to net curtains?
•Is it close to the Christmas tree?
•Can it be easily knocked over?

Tea Lights:

Never use tea lights without putting them in a tea light holder! The foil holder tea light is supplied in is not sufficient on its own as they get hot and some collapse on one side to let the flame touch the surroundings.

Electrical Safety:

We all want to have Christmas lights on the tree, maybe around a window or in the porch or… well, its endless really isn’t it and lights are so cheap to buy. So, few simple rules:
•Do not wire more than one set of lights into the same plug
•No tape joints
•Don’t daisy chain one multi adaptor into another one and another one
•For most lights, you need a 3-amp fuse, not a 13-amp fuse so if you are using your own plugs change the fuse!
•Some lights come with transformer plugs or transformers, they get hot so make sure they are not covered up or enclosed in a tight place.

Christmas Decorations:

Paper Christmas decorations should not be hung from light fittings or near light bulbs. Decorations that include candles or tea lights need extra care and attention!

Mobile Phones and Phone Chargers:

There have been a number of bedroom fires recently caused by people having their mobile phone under their bed pillow whilst it is on charge! So, if this could be you or your partner or your children, don’t sleep on your phone! Cheap “knock off” mobile phone chargers are renown for catching fire, get the right charger, it may cost a few more pound but it can save a whole lot of tears!


Thankfully fewer people now smoke, but if you do then remember alcohol can make your usual safe habits slip a little so, the usual rules apply, proper ashtrays, empty them outside at night and never smoke in bed, especially after a few drops of Christmas cheer!

Bedtime Check List:

So last thing at night here is a simple checklist:

•Close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading
•Turn off and unplug electrical appliances unless they are
designed to be left on – like your freezer
•Check your cooker is turned off
•Don’t leave the washing machine or tumble drier on
•Turn heaters off and put up fireguards
•Put candles and cigarettes out properly
•Make sure exits are kept clear
•Keep door and window keys where everyone can find them

I don’t want you to be terrified of fire, it is unlikely that you will have a fire in your home this Christmas, especially if you follow these simple rules we have talked about above but, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared now does it, just in case!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, this will be our first Christmas with our newborn grandson, he won’t remember it of course but we will and you can bet that I will be putting all of the above into practice in my house, so, why don’t you?

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