Alert and aware

Boyd Thompson, 84, and his wife Joan, 79, have lived at Braeside Close retirement village, Wollongong, for five years and always attend the annual fire-safety talk and drill.
Boyd says that in their 58 years of marriage, they have had to “use a fire blanket a couple of times” to put out a cooking fire on the stove. “The fire blanket was made of fibreglass – never wash them, they fall to pieces,” Boyd says. “You always have to get a new one.”
He said a nearby elderly lady had accidentally set her microwave to 20 minutes instead of 20 seconds, which had caused a small fire.
“Gosh, when I opened the door there was smoke billowing everywhere. We have fireproof doors but the smoke builds up from pressure and expands when it gets through the cracks.”
The village of 50 units with 66 tenants is run by the Illawarra Retirement Trust and once a year its fire information officer gives a talk.
“He brings along a flame and we practise using a fire blanket and learning how to put it out without burning our hands.”
Boyd says the officer emphasises the necessity of cleaning filters above stoves and in clothes dryers because lint can catch fire.
They are also warned to be careful when using extension cords.
“We don’t run cables across the floor because we’re old people – we don’t want to trip over. Some people use extension cords and run them around the walls and under curtains. The cords can overheat and set the curtains alight,” he says.
They have also been told not to use cheap nightlights, which can cause fires.

Boyd says he and his wife do a practice drill once a year of exiting from the bedroom to the front door, imagining there is dim lighting and blinding smoke.
They have directions of what to do when a fire occurs and the location of a designated meeting spot written on an A4 sheet on bright yellow paper, in large print, by the front door.
“It says to RACE – Residents get out; raise the Alarm; Contain the fire by closing doors and windows and Evacuate. We have three exits from our home,” Boyd says.

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