A Christmas to remember. After helping people through home and business fires for nearly 48 years, ‘it did happen to me’, at around 10:30pm Christmas night.
After only about 1 1/2 hours sleep that night I posted a quick note on Facebook with a few photos. The response I received was a complete surprise. There were a few common themes. The first which was only repeated to me last night during a phone call to a broker friend of mine in Queensland was that their wife would have panicked and they would not have been any better.
The second response I had from most people, and this was right down to the great loss adjuster who attended Boxing Day, was “I do not have a fire extinguisher in my own home”.
Before I go into my story, I would explain that the United Energy technician that attended advised that mine was the fourth house that morning, Boxing Day, that he had been to that had a fire. Some TV’s, some air-conditioners. Every day there is a house fire on the news with one in Coomera being reported on breakfast TV this morning.
So what happened?
The Series 5, 62 inch Samsung “Smart” TV that caught fire while left on Standby
Simply, a TV left on standby caught on fire. Luckily, something woke my wife, Helen who had fallen asleep on a couch in our family room watching another TV and she rushed to wake me, sound asleep in bed.
Being risk averse and being to so many such losses, we have a fire extinguisher on hand and were able to extinguish the fire in seconds. I could still see there was something glowing inside the TV. I tried one garden hose but it was not long enough so ran to a second. While I was doing this Helen rang our son, Steve who immediately ran up from his house 3 doors away and took the hose and directed it inside the TV after I ensured the power was off. Steve I would point out had also been asleep.
The Chubb brand 1.5kg fire extinguisher that knocked down the flames so effectively
Helen then rang the fire brigade to ensure there was no fire in the ceiling space. They used thermal detectors and reported all okay, but they rang the electrical authority who turned all the power off to our home.
The speed of attendance, the professionalism and the empathy of the fire officers and the senior officer was exemplary. We are so fortunate to have such highly trained and equipped emergency services. The Police nor ambulance were called. I did note that the 000 operator kept Helen on the phone talking to her in an attempt to ensure she was safe and under control.
Had the fire been larger at the point I got to it, I would not have attempted to extinguish it but got Helen to safety. I assessed, thankfully rightly, however that I could bring it under control with the fire extinguisher I had. Even before I entered the room I ensured the handle was still cool enough to touch and the door having a glass panel I could see the size of the flames and the location before I opened the door. Had it been larger, again I would not have opened the door as the extra oxygen may have caused a backdraft
Steve meanwhile, rolled up the hall runner to stop all the soot being trampled into it and then turned off the mains gas supply. I am very proud of the way he took control of all this. He then came in and we moved all the photograph albums, framed memorabilia and other things of sentimental or monetary value out to safety.
The photograph albums were in behind glass and thankfully escaped major damage. While I have all the negatives.
We were so lucky that Helen discovered it early enough, if we had been out we could have lost a sizable part of the house. I think we caught it well on its way to flash over based on the heat and level of smoke in the room.
Again, I applaud Helen for keeping the door closed while she ran down to get me.
While it was a terrible thing to happen. We consider ourselves so lucky. It could have been much worse.
Most importantly no one was hurt.
The TV had originally been at my son’s home but he switched it out and took ours to our Melbourne office for the staff, had replaced it with the one that caught fire from his house and had purchased a new one to replace that. I am so thankful that the TV failed in our house and not his with 2 young children, nearly 4 and nearly 1.
The damage to the solid plastered brick wall is clearly shown here
The TV was mounted on a hard plastered solid brick wall. Had it been on a timber framed wall, I fear the damage would have been much, much worse.
Our daughter Susan, had only moved back to Australia on 9th November after studying for her Doctorate in the US. She had been storing 8 or 9 suitcases of clothes in the room where the fire occurred. All the clothes and shoes had been taken out and hung on temporary racks in the room. Again, fortunately she had just moved out a few days before.
We had a fire extinguisher and I knew how to use it. Although, in hindsight I wished it was a larger one so I did not have to stuff around with the hose. I lost time turning off power to the room and I would not have had to worry about electrocution had I been able to use the dry powder extinguisher but it was spent by this time. As it turned out, the circuit breaker had tripped anyway and the power to the TV was off.
By lunch time on Boxing Day, the loss adjuster has been out, a restoration company and electrician had also attended. Our neighbour loaned us power via an extension lead for our fridge, so nothing lost there. Many of our neighbours had spoken to us or Steve to ensure we were safe.
With electrics isolated by the electrician to the power point behind the TV we simply had to wait for United Energy to reconnect us which they did by around 2pm.
Steve has been up helping Helen and I clean up the mess and salvaging all we can.
We are fully insured with a first class insurer and we think anything of sentimental value is fine or can be repaired.
Some of the contents salvaged on the night of the fire ready for cleaning in the light of day.
The aftermath was very little sleep for Helen and I, who were getting up many times during the night to check over and over, making sure everything was okay and that the fire had not somehow got up into the roof space.
Two things did frustrate me.
1. I had been trying to get smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in all bedrooms and living rooms since speaking with one of our senior risk managers who explained that children are often put into bed and the door closed. A fire breaks out in their room and the smoke does not get out to activate the alarm. By the time the fire is discovered, the child /children can have succumbed to the smoke. I would not allow my grandchildren to stay in our home until this was sorted and I had been waiting since August for our normal electrician to do the installation. It was obviously too small for him and I had only arranged before the Christmas shut to have another electrician to do this work on 7 January. Had this been in, we may have picked up the fire quicker.
The second is that a painter I had engaged had painted the window shut to that room. Our home is over 100 years old and has a double hung, sometimes called a Colonial style windows. They are fiddly to paint so many people just paint them closed. It took ages to get it open to clear the smoke and of course, makes it harder/more dangerous as it reduces the chance of escape in a fire.
I was outside Bunnings well before it opened the next day and purchased 2 new extinguishers, bigger than the old one. I have installed 2 additional ones around the home also.
15 tubs, a box and a lamp, the contents of which were rescued from the fire after cleaning.
For the next two days, Helen, Steve and I washed and cleaned everything we could salvage from the room. We ended up with 15 tubs of books, DVDs, games and statues that we have collected during our many years of travel.
We did lose a few books, a couple of games and some CDs that were effected by the heat, despite being in a case and inside drawers. We do not intend claiming any of these.
3 mantle clocks are in for strip down and cleaning and a gilt bust needs re-gilding.
When the room is rebuilt, I will ensure the power point is re-positioned so that it can be reached easily, and I can turn it off at the wall when not in use. One of the team at LMI is also looking at the use of smart devices to turn off appliances like the TV during periods when no one uses them.
I would mention that the electrician pointed out to me that a TV on standby is still using 70% of its power.
The last point I would make is that it is amazing how much the cost of repairs adds up. Just to strip and clean the 3 clocks is estimated at $2,400.
I hope this narrative gets you thinking and there are some lessons learned for you from our Christmas to remember.