Maha N. Mufti [email protected]
Published — Friday 8 June 2012
Last update 8 June 2012 4:20 am
A toddler goes into her mother’s bedroom, finds a box of matches next to a candle. She tries to light the candle but instead she manages to light other flammable material. She furtively leaves the room and closes the door behind her. A few minutes later, the mother, who was in the kitchen at the time, finally noticed black smoke escaping under her bedroom door. When she opened the door she saw her bedroom going up in flames. Her first instinct was that she must take her children and leave the apartment as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, earlier that morning, her husband had left for work and locked the door behind him with his key. The only other key to the apartment door was inside the burning room. Without taking any safety precautions, the young mother ran into the bedroom and quickly snatched the key, thus sustaining serious burns on her face and arms. Thankfully, she managed to escape the apartment, took her children up to the roof, and waited for rescue. By the time the fire trucks came, the apartment and everything they owned had been totally destroyed. The fire trucks took twenty minutes to get there, which was relatively good timing, considering the distance they had to cover in heavy traffic.
This was not a story I read somewhere, it did in fact happen to my friend’s daughter. Horrified, I called to commiserate with them, and asked questions regarding how the fire had started and how matters were being handled.
Several distressing facts came to my attention. The household lacked any fire safety precautions. No fire alarms, fire extinguishers and no fire blankets. The adults and of course their children, had no idea how to deal with a fire. That’s why the mother sustained burns to her face and arms. Had she known that she should have soaked a big towel in water, then covered herself with the towel before entering the burning room, she might have had lesser burns or none at all. Of course one could say that in an emergency situation, people tend to panic and not remember any safety measures. They just want to escape. However, this should not stop anyone from learning about fire prevention and dealing with a fire at home once it starts. Having this knowledge, and teaching it to your family might help to save lives in case of a fire at home. The General Directorate of Civil Defense, which is a branch of the Saudi Ministry of Interior, does in fact have a comprehensive website in both Arabic and English. They publish safety instructions, and the website is definitely worth checking out. Perhaps though, in addition to the website, the directorate needs to continuously spread fire safety awareness, with live demonstrations, through educational institutions, hospitals, company offices, shops, basically everywhere. This incident with my friend’s daughter reminded me that I too need more knowledge and further training to make sure my family and I have taken all preventative measures at home. People everywhere should also bear the responsibility of educating themselves about fire safety; so spread the word before a fire spreads in your home. One more thing, don’t keep matches or lighters within easy reach of children to play with!