Safety Hub

Cost of Living - Stay Fire Safe

As the cost of living increases, we've put together some top tips to help you stay fire safe while you're trying to reduce the cost of heating or lighting your home.
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This autumn and winter, as people look to save money on energy bills due to cost of living rises, West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) is urging everyone to take simple steps to avoid accidental fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

WMFS understands that rising living costs will cause individuals to seek alternative methods of heating and lighting their homes. “Stay Fire Safe” is the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) national campaign's call to action for individuals, urging them to visit www.ohfsc.co.uk to do an online home fire safety check.

We've got more tips and info to keep you and your family fire safe on our Safety Advice page.

Information on warm spaces in your area.

Heating
Candle Safety
Gas Safety and Carbon Monoxide
Smoke Alarms
Electrical Safety
Bypassing Meters
Social Media Trends

General advice

A mattress topper and a higher TOG-rated duvet are effective alternatives to electric blankets if you want extra warmth or need help retaining heat.

We know that not everyone can heat their entire home or even a single room. If you have the option, prioritise heating yourself instead of your surroundings - for instance, by bundling up in warm clothes or safely using a hot water bottle.

Try to make sure that your heating appliances are up to date and not subject to a product recall before using them. If you haven't used an appliance in some time or it is quite old, get it checked by a professional before using it.

Never install, repair or service appliances yourself. Make sure anyone who does is registered with the Gas Safe Register (for gas appliances), the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) (for solid fuel appliances), or the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) (for oil appliances), or a qualified electrician for electric heaters.

Don’t sit too close to an open fire or electric heater, it could set fire to your clothes or chair. We recommend checking your loved ones are using their heaters safely. This is especially important if you or your family members regularly use emollient products which can make clothing and soft furnishings more flammable.

Never use heaters or open fires to dry clothes. If you need to dry clothes in the same room as a heater or open fire, ensure they are placed well away from the heat to reduce the risk of fire.

Two firefighters handing a lady a safe and well booklet in her home

Solid fuel heating

Ensure that you're burning the correct fuel in open fires and wood stoves, such as fireplaces. Other materials can produce hazardous fumes in your house, increasing the chance of chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Open fires and wood-burning stoves

You must not reuse or restart an old fireplace without getting it checked by a professional. A blocked, dirty or faulty chimney could be hazardous and might allow fire, carbon monoxide, and/or fumes to enter your home or even your neighbour's house. Find out more about chimney and open fire safety on our dedicated safety page.

Outdoor heaters

You should only ever use heaters that are designed for indoor use. If you use an outdoor heater indoors, it could be a fire hazard because they produce large amounts of heat not suitable for the confined spaces of a home. They also produce carbon monoxide which can be poisonous and could be fatal.

Gas Safety Checks

If possible, don’t skip servicing of boilers and gas appliances by a Gas Safe engineer to prevent gas leaks and CO poisoning. Landlords must arrange for an annual gas safety check in rented accommodation.

If you’re a homeowner check your energy provider’s website for information about their Priority Services Register -– if you’re eligible, they often offer a free annual gas safety check along with other support.

Portable Heaters

Please don't put heaters in a place that blocks escape routes or places you walk by regularly. This reduces the risk of them being knocked over or preventing you from escaping in an emergency. 

You should always ensure portable heaters are, switched off, unplugged and fully cooled before moving them around your home.

Only use heaters in rooms they are designed to be used in. For example, standard portable heaters (gas and electric) must not be used in shower rooms or bathrooms. Portable gas heaters must not be used in bedrooms and should only be used in well-ventilated rooms.

Avoid second-hand heaters if you can, but if you do buy one, check it carefully for damage - if unsure, avoid it. Make sure the manufacturer is someone you know and that the seller can provide you with the operation instructions (or that you can download a copy of the manual yourself). This helps you to understand how to use the heater properly and minimize fire risk.

If you're buying a new heater make sure you buy from recognised manufacturers and retailers. This will reduce the risk of buying counterfeit and unsafe heaters. After purchase, register your products with the manufacturer or on the AMDEA website. This will mean in the event of a recall or repair the manufacturer can easily get in touch with you.

 

Keeping safe with candles

Candles can create a relaxing or special atmosphere. They also bring fire into your home. So treat them carefully. Be sure to keep a burning candle in sight, and extinguish them before leaving a room or going to sleep.

  • never burn a candle on, or near, anything that can catch fire
  • keep them out of the reach of children and pets, and away from anywhere they might knock them over
  • place burning candles at least three inches apart so they don’t melt one another or create draughts that can cause the candles to flare
  • always use a sturdy, heat-resistant candle holder on a heat-resistant surface that’s big enough to contain drips and melted wax
  • keep burning candles away from draughts, vents, ceiling fans and air currents. Draughts could also blow lightweight items into a flame where they could catch fire.
A small lit candle on a table infront of blurred out lights.

Gas Safety Checks

If possible, don’t skip servicing of boilers and gas appliances by a Gas Safe engineer to prevent gas leaks and CO poisoning. Landlords must arrange for an annual gas safety check in rented accommodation.

If you’re a homeowner check your energy provider’s website for information about their Priority Services Register -– if you’re eligible, they often offer a free annual gas safety check along with other support.

Storage and cylinders

Keep your gas, paraffin and LPG cylinders in a safe place outside the house where they won't be hit by direct sunlight. Also, don't store them on balconies since those can act as an important escape route from your home during a fire, and it's also the firefighters' main point of entry into buildings.

Make sure you change cylinders for portable heaters in a well-ventilated place and away from sources of heat and ignition.

Carbon Monoxide

Have a carbon monoxide detector in any room where you're using a gas or solid fuel-burning appliance. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal and the symptoms can often go unnoticed.

Landlords are responsible for ensuring carbon monoxide alarms are equipped in any room used as living accommodation which contains a fixed combustion appliance (excluding gas cookers). Find out more on our carbon monoxide safety page.

A firefighter holding a carbon monoxide monitor up to the camera

You should have working smoke alarms fitted on every level of your home.

Smoke alarms give you vital time to ‘get out, stay out and call 999’ if ever you’re unlucky enough to have a fire.

And it’s crucial that you test them regularly – we advise once a week. Follow us on Twitter for our #TestitTuesday reminders.

A smoke alarm with the batteries missing is useless. If you must take the battery out, make sure you replace it there and then.

Every six months you should open the alarm case and gently vacuum inside to remove dust from the sensor. If the smoke alarm doesn’t open, vacuum through the holes.

Change the battery every year (unless it’s a ten-year alarm) or when you need to. Alarms give out an intermittent bleep to let you know the battery’s running low.

No matter the size of your home, if you can only heat one room, it is essential that you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in that room so you will hear them while sleeping.

You can take a free online safety check which will help you identify any risks. Visit https://www.safelincs.co.uk/hfsc/ to do it online today. Alternatively, for the most vulnerable, you can apply for a Safe and Well visit from us. During the visit, our local firefighters will give you safety advice on a range of areas such as fire and personal safety as well as fitting smoke detectors free where they're needed.

A small lit candle on a table infront of blurred out lights.

Electrical safety

Due to the high cost of energy, we understand that consumers on tariffs may start to run appliances overnight in an effort to save money.

We recommend that people avoid leaving appliances such as washing machines, tumble dryers or dishwashers running unattended overnight or when you're asleep, where it is practically possible to do so.

It's critical that people who aren't on a 'time-of-use' plan don't leave appliances running at night— electricity isn't any cheaper if you aren't, despite social media misinformation suggesting otherwise. Only if you have a tariff where your electricity is cheaper at night should you consider running appliances at that time. 

If you have to run your appliances overnight it is imperative to follow the safety advice to reduce the risk of a fire:

  • Keep your family safe by making sure you have working smoke alarms in your home, and test them regularly
  • register all of your appliances with the manufacturer, regardless if they are used or older models
  • don't overload your plug sockets as this can lead to overheating. Make sure you spread the load evenly across all of your sockets to avoid any potential problems
  • avoid plugging appliances that use a lot of energy into extension leads
  • on appliances with filters, check and clean them regularly as per the manufacturer’s instructions
  • check the cables and plugs of your appliances for any signs of wear and tear
  • if you’re concerned about an appliance in your home, use Electrical Safety First’s online product checker to see if has been recalled
  • if you think there might be a problem with your appliance, unplug it and contact the retailer, manufacturer or a qualified repair technician as appropriate

These simple checks could save your life

Clothes hanging out of a silver washing machine

Electric blankets

Age UK say that damaged electric blankets cause more than 5‚000 house fires a year, and people aged 65 or more are at greatest risk. Danger signs include: fraying fabric, scorch marks, exposed elements, a worn flex.

  • never use an electric blanket if it’s wet, and never switch it on to dry it
  • never use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together
  • make sure the power’s turned off at the wall and the blanket’s unplugged when not in use
  • always spread the blanket out flat – never use it folded
  • store the blanket carefully when it is not in use
  • always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular blanket.

Tampering or bypassing meters

We understand that with cost of living and energy bills at such high levels, tampering with meters or bypassing them is something that may seem your only option. It's important to remember that bypassing gas or electric meters is not only illegal, it's also highly dangerous.

Even if someone does it for you, the risk of fire, explosions or damage to your property is extremely high. 

We strongly advise anyone who suspects a meter has been tampered with to report it anonymously on 0800 023 2777 or visit https://www.stayenergysafe.co.uk/

Damaging the gas supply is dangerous

Natural gas is combustible and can cause severe damage if it's interfered with. When inhaled, natural gas displaces the oxygen in your lungs, causing headaches – and even loss of consciousness.

Not only is leaking gas flammable, but it can also be easily ignited by something as simple as flipping a light switch. An explosion puts anyone nearby at risk for terrible injuries.

We strongly advise anyone suspecting a meter has been tampered with, or if someone offers to dramatically reduce your energy bills by tampering with your meter, that you report them anonymously. Call 0800 023 2777 or visit https://www.stayenergysafe.co.uk/

Interfering with electricity is dangerous for everyone.

Electricity is dangerous. Whether at home or in a business, tampering with meters is always hazardous. Switches or equipment could be made ‘live' to the touch by meddling with the wiring, resulting in them overheat or malfunction.

Not only is tampering with electricity meters illegal, it's also incredibly dangerous. Anyone using electricity in the property risks shocks and burns, and the meter could start a fire that endangers you or your neighbours.

Social media hacks

With the cost of living proving a challenge, we know that creators on social media are sharing a range of "hacks" to help you light or heat your home for as little as possible. 

It's important to remember that while they may seem clever, and some may even work, there are often safety considerations that people haven't thought of. 

For example, a recent TikTok trend shows candles being used with terracotta plant pots to create a small heater. A range of creators have shared different variations on this. Remember, using candles comes with its own safety concerns, and we'd recommend anyone using candles to take a look at our candle safety page. Never leave candles burning unattended.

There are also considerations around how safe pots are when balanced on feet or other surfaces, with some versions of the "hack" having multiple pots balanced together. Not only would this risk burns from anyone trying to touch or move the pots, but there's also a considerable risk of them being knocked over and causing a fire. 

Another popular hack is putting tin or kitchen foil behind your radiator to deflect heat. However, not only is this quite ineffective, the tin foil can get extremely hot, making it dangerous to touch. Its effectiveness also decreases over time and is only useful for radiators in homes without cavity wall insulation and only on external walls. Most modern homes wouldn't get any benefit from this hack.

Another 'hack' recently trending is cooking steak in a toaster. Not only is this a serious fire risk, as a toaster isn't designed to cook foods like this, but there's a serious risk of undercooked meat and contamination, which is itself a health hazard. We strongly urge our communities not to try this.

We would strongly recommend anyone seeing the "hacks" on social media to think carefully about any risks involved, and where possible, check with a professional or fire safety expert such as your local fire service, before trying anything that could put you or your family at risk. 

A phone showing the TikTok logo on it
Someone holding a roll of kitchen foil in front of a radiator with 'foil behind radiators to deflect heat' written aboveA terracotta pot suspended above a holder with tea lights underneath it
Two steaks in a toaster with 'How to cook a steak' written above

Warm spaces

Warm Spaces are places where people can gather for free in a warm, safe, welcoming place and maybe enjoy a hot drink and some company. Councils across the West Midlands have information on these spaces. There's also a national register of warm spaces. 

We've linked below the national register and local councils for you to find out more.
National Register for warm spaces
National Register for warm spaces
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