UK Government

Communities and Local Government: Celebrate safely this Christmas- don't drown in toxic smoke

Press Release   •   Dec 01, 2009 09:27 GMT

People often get distracted by the hustle and bustle of Christmas and are unaware of the potential fire hazards and toxic threats that can lurk in fairy lights, candles and flammable decorations.  Latest figures from the Fire Kills campaign show a rise in the number of accidental fire deaths and injuries over the festive period.  In 2008 there were 33,000 accidental house fires, 10% of which occurred around Christmas  [1]

The Fire Kills campaign wants everyone to have a happy and safe Christmas this year and is urging the public to take fire safety seriously - plan escape routes, install smoke alarms and test them weekly.

The ‘Don’t Drown in Toxic Smoke’ advertising campaign will be running over the Christmas period and dramatically shows how quickly toxic smoke can effect the human body. A sleeping couple are shown being overcome by the drowning sensation of toxic smoke when a fire breaks out in their home at night.

Actress Jill Halfpenny is supporting the ‘Don’t Drown in Toxic’ smoke campaign and says, “As a mum I am very conscious of trying to keep my home as safe as possible to reduce the risks from fire.  The fact is that fires can and do happen so it’s important to check your smoke alarm weekly and to be aware of the dangers. Ignorance is definitely not bliss when it comes to keeping your family safe”.

Chief Fire & Rescue Advisor Sir Ken Knight, says, ‘The risk of fire in the home is an all year round issue – however people are particularly vulnerable at Christmas for many reasons ranging from unsafe electrical decorations, unattended candles through to cooking whilst drunk. People also vastly underestimate the deadly strength of toxic smoke and overestimate how long they have to escape should a fire break out.  The reality is that just two to three breaths of smoke in a fire can render a person unconscious.  Christmas should be a time for celebration rather than tragedy and for this reason I’m urging people to be fire aware and stay fire safe.”

Here are the Fire Kills campaign’s top tips to stay safe from fire this Christmas:

1. Ensure you have a working smoke alarm installed on all levels of your home. Test your smoke alarms weekly and never remove batteries to power presents!

2. Never leave cooking unattended and avoid cooking whilst drunk.  The majority of fires start in the kitchen so this is a high risk area.  Always turn off kitchen appliances when you have finished cooking.

3. Never leave candles unattended. Keep decorations, cards and wrapping paper away from candles, fires, lights and heaters.

4. Ensure you switch off fairy lights and unplug them before you go to bed, or leave the house. Check your Christmas tree lights conform to the British Standard (BS EN 60598).

5. Always use an RCD (residual current device) on outdoor electrical equipment (a safety device that can save lives by instantly switching off the power if there is a fault).

6. Don’t overload sockets – ensure only one plug per socket.  Always turn off plugs when they are not in use, except those that are designed to be left on, like freezers.

7. Make sure cigarettes are extinguished properly and never smoke in bed.  Put it out, right out.

8. Check on older relatives and neighbours this Christmas, as they are at greater risk from fire.

9. Ask the experts – Fire and Rescue Services in England offer free home fire risk checks to identify potential fire risks and advise what to do to reduce or prevent them. This may even include the free installation of a smoke alarm – the ideal gift for keeping your family safe

10. And finally, in the event of fire: get out, stay out and call 999.

For more information on fire safety in the home, or Home Fire Risk Checks, go to or contact your local Fire and Rescue Service (not 999).

Notes to editors

Information sources

1 –  Fire Statistics Monitor Q3 2008-09

For further information on the campaign and case studies please contact:

Mary Price, 020 7261 8318,

Kim Keegan, 020 7261 8204,

For queries on the Government’s fire safety policy please contact Communities and Local government press office 020 7944 3288.  Out of hours 020 7944 5945.  Website

·         ‘Don’t Drown in Toxic Smoke’ campaign background

The creative compares the sensation of drowning and inhaling toxic smoke to encourage people to embed the practice of weekly testing of smoke alarms. The campaign is part of the government’s ongoing fire safety campaign to reduce injuries and deaths from accidental house fires. The campaign is based on research which found that people wrongly think that smoke will alert them to a fire so that they have time to escape. However, even when alerted to a fire you may have less than two minutes to escape.

The campaign will run from 5 October 2009 to March 2010 with an emphasis on weekend advertising to encourage people to form a weekly habit of testing their smoke alarm at this time. The ground-breaking television campaign is complemented by print, radio and digital advertising as well as local engagement from Fire and Rescue Services to get the message across about testing your smoke alarm weekly.


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