It makes for sobering reading: nearly one-third of residential fires in NSW last year occurred between June and August, according to NSW Fire Brigades. And, as a spate of fatalities in recent weeks has shown, such winter blazes can soon turn deadly.

Indoor heaters, unattended fireplaces and overloaded power supplies are some of the causes of household fires. Yet reducing the risk of a fire needn’t mean stripping the home of comfort-giving appliances or a warming hearth.

Smoke alarms are an inexpensive and readily accessible means of helping protect the home. Almost three-quarters of NSW homes are already fitted with alarms and the devices will become compulsory from 1 May next year, the state government announced last month.

But, for smoke alarm-free households, superintendent Ross Brogan from NSW Fire Brigades said it is a wise move to invest in a device before next year’s deadline.

What we recommend is that you have at least one smoke alarm in the home and that should be in a living area such as a lounge room, he said.

If you have a hallway which runs from your living area to your bedrooms, there should be one in the hallway, which would then alert people if smoke came along the hallway before it got to the bedrooms.

If people sleep in a bedroom with the door closed, then that bedroom should have a smoke alarm inside to alert people again.

Householders have a choice of two types of smoke alarm: battery-operated devices and hard-wired models, which are connected to a household electricity supply. Either device is suitable, Brogan said, as long as it complies with Australian Standards. But a hard-wired smoke alarm is likely to be a more costly choice.

The battery operated one can be fitted by the homeowner or the occupant and the other one has to be installed by a licensed electrician.

Smokers are unlikely to set off a smoke alarm, but cooking can trigger a device installed in a kitchen; specialised kitchen models are available. And, regardless of the model you choose, regular testing is key.

People should make sure they test them frequently to make sure they’re operating, and [if applicable] they should change the battery in them at least once a year, Brogan said.

They should pick a particular day like a birthday -¦ so they can remember when they change the battery.

Both battery-operated and hard-wired smoke alarms are available from major retailers and hardware stores. For more smoke alarm information and for a winter fire safety guide, visit the NSW Fire Brigades website at www.nswfb.gov.au

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