Hesperian Health Guides

Prevent fires while working at home

A fire can spread quickly in a home where factory work is done. There is lots of material to burn and electrical connections may be poor and are often overloaded. If you do factory work at home:

  • keep chemicals away from open flames and do not smoke inside.
  • store solvents and other flammable materials in metal boxes or barrels and help neighbors do this too.
  • keep windows and doors open for ventilation, and use fans.
  • if a fire starts in a cooking pot, cover it with a lid to smother it.
  • keep a bucket of sand or earth on hand to use to smother fires, especially fires caused by chemicals or electrical problems, and for wood or cloth fires when water pressure is too low to depend on a hose.
  • ask your employer for a fire extinguisher. If he won’t give you one, you can make a small one for home use.
  • make sure there is a clear exit path out of the house.

Prepare for fire. Plan with your neighbors what to do if a fire breaks out in your community.

  • Let people know there is a fire. Bang on an iron pipe to sound the alarm and alert everyone to danger.
  • Plan how to fight the fire. Organize people to work as a "bucket brigade," to bring pails of water, sand, or dirt.
  • Where to meet after. Name a place, such as a park or large building, where people can agree to meet in case of an emergency, and later to make sure everyone is all right.
Make a fire extinguisher at home

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illustration of the instructions below: a plastic bottle with arrows showing how to fill it.
adding baking soda to the bottle and taping a nail to the side.
Baking soda
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Puncture the bottle to use

You will need:

  • plastic bottle, half liter or more
  • water
  • vinegar (any kind)
  • baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • small plastic bag, cut into a circle of about 3 inches or 15 cm in diameter
  • a nail, screw, or pin
  • tape
  1. Fill ½ of the plastic bottle with water. Then fill most of the remaining space with vinegar, but be sure to leave about 2 inches of space at the top.
  2. Place the circle of plastic on top of the opening of the bottle. Use your finger to push the middle of the circle inside the mouth of the bottle. Put 2 to 4 spoonfuls of baking soda inside, using your finger to push the plastic farther into the bottle as it fills. Roll the ends of the plastic into a cone so the cap can be screwed on the bottle. Close the bottle as soon as the plastic packet of baking soda goes in.
  3. Close the bottle tightly and store upright. The packet of baking soda will sit on top of the liquid. Tape the nail to the bottle.

Prepare several of these in advance.

To use, shake the bottle hard and fast to mix the baking soda, vinegar, and water. When you start to see foam, use the nail to make a hole in the bottom of the bottle (feel for a thinner spot in the plastic) and point the spray at the fire. Continue shaking the bottle as you spray the fire.

First aid for burns

For any burn, take off clothing and jewelry near the burned skin and put the burned area under cool (not iced) water for at least 30 minutes.

Minor burns that do not form blisters: Put the burned area under cool water immediately. This will reduce pain and lessen the damage. Burns can hurt, so use a pain medicine if needed.

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Burns from hot water or oil: Take off any clothing that has the hot oil or water on it. Immediately rinse the burn with cool water.

Burns that cause blisters: Put the burned area in cool water immediately. Do not break the blisters. If the blisters break, wash gently with mild soap and water, but do not use a disinfectant or iodine. Keep the burn clean and protect it from dirt, dust, and flies with antibiotic ointment or honey, and sterile gauze or bandages. If healing is slow or the skin stays red, swollen, or painful, see a health worker. You may need treatment for infection.

Burns from chemicals: See Chapter 8: Chemical dangers.

Go to a health center immediately for:

  • Large or deep burns: Burns that cover a large area of the body or expose raw or charred flesh are always serious.
  • Burns that cover a joint, the face, or the genitals: These can lead to disability.
  • Burns combined with other injuries.
  • Burns on children: It is harder for children to recover from burns than adults.

Note: Never put grease, fat, animal skin, coffee, herbs, or feces on a burn. They might cause an infection or prevent the skin from healing.

Breathing smoke

Breathing smoke can burn the lungs, which can be very serious. Go to a health care center immediately if there is difficulty breathing, a burning feeling in the lungs, a tight chest, or severe coughing.

When near a fire, cover your mouth and nose.
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This page was updated:28 Feb 2021