Council housing handbook

Home emergencies

Chapter 4: Home emergencies


What to do if you have a fire in your home

  1. If any of your smoke alarms go off, never assume it is a false alarm.
  2. Shout ‘FIRE’ to alert others in the home.
  3. Don’t waste time investigating what’s happened or rescuing valuables – remember, get out, stay out and shut the doors behind you.
  4. Call 999 as soon as you are safe to do so.
  5. Don’t try and tackle a fire yourself. Leave it to the professionals – as soon as you make the call, they'll be on their way.
  6. Try and keep calm, and close doors behind you to slow down the spread of fire and smoke.
  7. Before you open a door, check if it’s warm with the back of your hand. If it is, don’t open it – there may be a fire on the other side.
  8. If there’s smoke, keep low where the air is clearer.
  9. Never go back into the building once you are safely outside

What to do if your escape route is blocked

  • If you can’t get out, get everyone into one room, ideally with a window and a phone. Close the door, and put bedding or any soft materials around the bottom of the door to block the smoke, then open the window and shout for help: 'HELP, FIRE'.
  • If you have a phone with you, call 999 – be ready to describe where you are and the quickest way to reach you.
  • If you’re on the ground or first floor, you may be able to escape through a window. Don't jump – use soft materials to cushion your fall, and lower yourself down carefully.

What to do if someone’s clothes catch fire 

If clothes have caught fire, don’t run. Try and remember ‘stop, drop, roll' – which means: 

  1. Stop – don’t run, you’ll make the flames worse.
  2. Drop – lie down on the ground at once.
  3. Roll – in heavy fabric or a fire blanket to smother the flames, though just on the ground will help. 

Reducing the risk of fire in your home

Note: If you have any impairment that may affect you hearing or responding to an audible alarm, contact your Neighbourhood Housing Officer.

  • Do check smoke detectors regularly
  • Do keep your front access door closed at all times. If you live in a flat, check it regularly. It is also a good idea to close your internal doors when you go to bed.
  • Do keep your balconies clear of any combustible materials
  • Do not use a barbecue on your balcony 
  • Do not leave cooking unattended
  • Do turn electrical appliances off at the wall. This is safer than leaving them on standby.
  • Do not overload sockets by plugging in too many electrical appliances
  • Do properly dispose of cigarettes and smoking materials
  • Do not smoke in bed or in a chair, especially if you’re feeling sleepy or are under influence of alcohol
  • Do keep lighters and matches away from children
  • Do fully understand your fire escape plan (see below)
  • Do report any damage to fire safety systems straightaway
  • Do remain vigilant and report suspicious behaviour to your Neighbourhood Housing Officer or Neighbourhood Warden.

Making a fire escape plan

  • The best route is the normal way you come in and out of your home
  • Plan a second route in case the first one is blocked – consider windows
  • Take a few minutes to practice your escape plan regularly
  • Keep door and window keys where everyone you live with can find them. For example, on hooks behind curtains or boxes on window sills.
  • If you have additional security gates or shutters, make sure you can open them easily from the inside
  • If you – or anyone you live with – might find it difficult to escape quickly without assistance in an emergency, make extra plans to get them to safety
  • Make sure everyone in your home understands what to do in a fire. Remember to tell visitors what to do, too.

E-bike and e-scooter fire safety in the home

Make sure you charge your e-bike or e-scooter battery safely. Follow these simple steps to reduce the risk of fire.

  • Don’t leave your device charging unattended or when you’re asleep
  • Don’t charge or store your battery in the hallway or where it could block your escape
  • Only use the correct charger for your battery
  • Only buy e-bikes, e-scooters and batteries from trusted retailers and manufacturers
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions 
  • Don’t attempt to modify or tamper with the battery
  • Check for the CE or UKCA safety marking to make sure your battery and charger meet safety standards
  • It is recommended that a professional carries out an e-bike conversion

Visit Fire England for further information.

Gas leaks

If you smell gas in your property, you must take the following action immediately:

  • Put out any cigarettes or naked flames
  • Do not flick any electrical switches (as they can cause sparks)
  • Do not use a telephone inside the property (as it can cause sparks)
  • Turn off the gas at the gas meter
  • Open all windows and doors

Once you have done this, you must telephone the National Gas Emergency service on 0800 111 999.

They will make your property safe and tell you what to do.

Once the emergency has been dealt with, please get in contact with us.

Leaking, overflowing, burst or frozen pipes

If a pipe leaks, you should:

  • place a dish or bowl underneath the leak
  • pull back any carpets and lay down newspapers or towels to absorb any moisture
  • request a repair

Please note: If you do not arrange a repair for the leak or faulty appliance, you may be liable for any damage caused to your home and other affected properties.

If a pipe freezes, you should:

  • turn off the mains water at the main stop tap to your property and open the cold taps
  • leave the pipes frozen, but if you are sure they are not burst, you may try to thaw the pipe using hot water bottles or a hair dryer 
  • thaw from one end of the frozen section and not from the middle
  • use any remaining hot water sparingly until the pipes are thawed

If a pipe bursts, you should:

  • turn off the mains water at the main stop tap to your property
  • switch off all water heaters and boilers
  • open all taps and drain the water from the system (tip: collect the water in jugs and containers to use for cooking, in the kettle or flushing the toilets later)
  • request a repair

If a ceiling bulges, you should

  • place a bucket under the bulge
  • pierce a small hole to let the water through and prevent the ceiling falling down
  • request a repair

Electrical faults

Electric fittings

If electric fittings get wet, you should:

Loss of electric light or power

If you lose electric light or power, you should do the following:

  • First, check your consumer unit or fuse boxIt is usually next to the electricity meter
  • If it has fuses, the blown fuse will need to be replaced. If it is a cartridge type it should be rewired using special fuse wire to the correct amperage.
  • If it has trip switches, check which switches have tripped to the ‘off ’ position and put them back to the ‘on’ position.
  • If a switch trips again, a faulty appliance is probably causing it.

Remember: Never tamper with the electricity company’s fuses and seals, and never replace or rewire a fuse unless you are confident you can do it safely and correctly. If in doubt, report the fault and request a repair.

Electric appliances

If you have a faulty electric appliance, you should:

  1. Go around the house and unplug all the appliances, and switch off the immersion heater
  2. Go back to the fuse box and switch the tripped switch back to the ‘on’ position
  3. One-by-one, plug in the appliances until the switch trips again

The appliance that causes the switch to trip will be the faulty appliance, you should:

  1. Leave that appliance unplugged
  2. Plug in all the other appliances
  3. Reset the trip switch to the ‘on’ position

You can then:

  • request a repair, if the faulty appliance is ours
  • get it fixed (by yourself or a qualified electrician) or replace it, if it is your appliance
Leaking appliances

If an appliance leaks, you should:

  • turn off the appliance’s isolation valve if it has one (most appliances use blue and/or red levers)
  • request a repair

Blocked drains

Blockages are usually caused by the build-upof cooking fat in sinks, hair in basins and baths and nappies, sanitary towels, air-fresheners and small objects falling down toilet pans. If unusual objects are found to have caused the blockage, we may charge you the full cost of clearing the blockage.

If a toilet pan is blocked, you should:

  1. Bale out most of the water using a suitable container
  2. Push a toilet brush or plunger (without a metal disk) to the bottom of the pan and pump up and down rapidly about ten times. This may shift the blockage.
  3. Flush the toilet to check if the blockage has gone

You may need to repeat the process several times before the toilet flushes normally.

If a sink, basin or bath is blocked, you should

  1. Bale out most of the water using a suitable container
  2. Hold a rag firmly over the overflow opening and place a plunger over the drain hole
  3. Pump the plunger up and down rapidly until the blockage clears

After clearing the blockage you should also clear out the waste trap. To do this, you should:

  1. Bale out most of the water from the sink, basin or bath using a suitable container.
  2. Place a bowl underneath the waste trap and unscrew the joints to remove it.
  3. Clean thoroughly and replace the waste trap, checking that the seals are in place and that all joints are screwed tightly

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