Famke Biesheuvel was just two years old when a flame from a faulty gas heater ignited her pyjamas, extensively burning the back of her legs.
In the seconds it took Famke’s parents from hearing their daughter’s screams to extinguishing the flames and stripping Famke of her burning pyjamas, the damage was done. Famke was facing lasting scars and a lengthy recovery, including many skin grafts over a number of years.
“It happened so quickly,” Famke’s mother Gretha Oost said.
“There are so many ways it could have been avoided – we should have chased the landlord to fix the heater, we should have had a screen in front of the heater, we should have been in the room with the girls when the heater was on.”
Famke and her family were joined today by Victoria’s fire services and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Peter Ryan, calling on all Victorians to take responsibility for their home fire safety.
In the past 10 years there have been 164 fatalities from residential fires and countless injuries. Winter is the riskiest time of the year for fires in the home in Victoria with about 1000 homes fires over winter each year.
At today’s launch at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Minister Ryan said there is really no excuse for these statistics.
“Most fatal fires in Victoria occur in people’s homes and, sadly, most of them can be prevented.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of every person in our state taking action to prevent fires starting in their home in the first place, and knowing what to do if a fire does start.
“At a bare minimum, having a working smoke alarm could save your life.”
Director of The Royal Children’s Hospital Burns Unit, Dr Russell Taylor, said any burn requiring hospitalisation resulted in months or years of recovery, and most left lasting physical reminders.
“Recovery from a burn, such as the one Famke received, takes many years,” he said.
“Already she has received two skin grafts and we expect she will need two more before she is 18.”
CFA Deputy Chief Officer of Readiness and Response, Steve Warrington, said it’s easy to reduce the risk of fire in your home.
“There’s a number of really simple actions people can take that may end up saving their life – from keeping at least one metre clear space around heaters and open fires, to never leaving cooking unattended and making sure your smoke alarm is working,” he said.
“You can check how fire safe your home is and get support for developing your home fire escape plan by visiting homefiresafety.com.au or calling 1800 799 203.”
Of the 1042 residential fires in Victoria last winter, 37 per cent started in the kitchen, 14 per cent in the lounge room and 10 per cent in the bedroom.
Leaving cooking unattended was the main cause of home fires in Victoria last year, responsible for 25 per cent of incidents. This was followed by electrical faults (11 per cent) and heating malfunctions (10 per cent).
Residential fires last winter resulted in an estimate $20 million in damages and six lives were lost.
Tips for being fire safe in your home this winter:
- Complete a simple fire safety check list
- Plan and practice your fire escape plan with your family
- If a fire starts, get out and stay out. Call 000
- Talk with your friends and family about what to do in an emergency
- Check your electric blanket, heater and other electric appliances for broken or worn wiring
- Don’t overload your power boards
- Don’t deadlock yourself in your home
- Make sure your smoke alarm is working
- Dry your clothes at least a metre away from heaters
- Use fire screens on open fires
- Put fires out and turn off heaters before going to bed
- Never leave candles unattended
*CFA AND MFB MEDIA RELEASE*