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Fires turn deadly in winter - Don't be a statistic

Published: 1st June 2012

Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, Geoff Provest, today urged householders to change their habits to avoid becoming a fire statistic this winter after it was revealed more than 60 per cent of home fire deaths occur during the cooler months.

Mr Provest joined Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) Acting Commissioner John Benson and NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Chief Superintendent Bruce McDonald to launch the annual Winter Fire Safety campaign on the first day of winter.

“It is well known that firefighters around NSW dread the first day of winter because there is always a spike in the number of home fires,” Mr Provest said.

“But not only are there more home fires when the temperature drops but, tragically, they are far more serious and more likely to result in injuries and deaths.”

FRNSW data reveals that of the 281* fire deaths that occurred over the past 10 years, 177 occurred in a home. Of those, 63 per cent, on average, occurred in the five months from May to September. Last year, that figure was 80 per cent.

“What is also startling is that 67 per cent of fire fatalities were male and more than 40 per cent of all fatalities occurred in the 30 to 59 years age group,” Mr Provest said.
“The leading causes of these fatal home fires, the majority of which were preventable, were heaters and electrical equipment/wiring (20 per cent), smoking materials (20 per cent) and matches or lighters (5 per cent).”

FRNSW Acting Commissioner John Benson said FRNSW research consistently showed the common risk factors for house fires were behavioural, such as smoking and drinking habits and lack of attention to cooking and heating.

He said people could greatly reduce their risk of fire by identifying and changing risky behaviour and habits.
“People need to be vigilant in their homes,” Acting Commissioner Benson said.

“It’s basic steps like turning off heaters and keeping clothing at least 1m from them; not overloading power points; and not leaving cooking and other open flame materials such as cigarettes and candles unattended,” he said.

“The best way to keep your family out of harm’s way and identify potential risks is by doing a FRNSW/GIO online home fire safety audit of your home and making sure you have working smoke alarms and a practiced home escape plan.”

NSW RFS Chief Superintendent Bruce McDonald said complacency and inaction often contributed to house fires.

“A lot of people seem to adopt the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude and as a result they ignore the fire risks in their own home.

“The fact is it can happen to you. Even a small fire can have a devastating impact emotionally, financially and physically. So, both FRNSW and the NSW RFS urge you not to be complacent this winter – assess the risks in your home and take the precautions needed to prevent a fire,” said Chief Superintendent McDonald.

Fire authorities, in partnership with FRNSW major community partner GIO, are encouraging householders to complete an online Home Fire Safety Audit as part of the winter fire safety campaign at: www.homefiresafetyaudit.com.au