In the event of a house fire: what's your plan?

A new New Zealand Fire Service initiative is helping Kiwis understand that when it comes to house fires, we need to be prepared to survive.

It’s easy to think a house fire will never happen to you. I’d never had much of a scare until last year when my (then) three year old, Mack, put a selection of his favourite matchbox cars in the microwave and turned it on. After the explosion came billowing smoke, accompanied by blind bellowing panic, which kept me second-guessing until the firemen arrived. It all seemed to happen in slow motion – but I’m under no illusion it all would have happened in fast forward had the power remained on and/or someone had opened the microwave. The fact is, fire is fast, disorienting, and deadly. Last year the New Zealand Fire Service attended 5,200 structure fires, and there were 18 avoidable deaths caused by residential fires.

Avoidable is the key word here. It’s the heart-wrenching motivation at the centre of the New Zealand Fire Service’s world-first initiative – This 360-degree and virtual reality experience puts members of the public at the epicenter of a real house burning down, challenging people to try and escape in time.

To really make the experience ‘hit home’, when you commence the Escape My House VR activity, you’ll be prompted to enter your address. Once you reach the end and have made it out of the house safely onto the street, you’ll be confronted with an image of your own home burning down in front of you, pulled in via Google StreetView. You’ll then be asked to make your own escape plan for your home, using the online Escape Planner Tool. “We don’t want to scare people,” explains Chris Kennedy, New Zealand Fire Service Station Officer and current Training Officer, “but it’s an activity to teach others how to get out safely and quickly. It also shows why we all need working smoke alarms, a clear escape plan and a safe meeting place … so many people don’t realise how such a small thing can save lives.”


All the filming for took place took place in a derelict house in Palmerston North, donated to the New Zealand Fire Service for training purposes. The fire was ignited by a clotheshorse left too close to a heater and catching alight – one of the most common ways house fires are started. Your house may look significantly different and you may not even own a clotheshorse, but I’m sure you don’t need reminding that young children have an uncanny ability to create hazards in even the safest of environments.  My son Mack’s matchbox cars once looked entirely harmless…

Here at OHbaby! we recommend you give the full experience a go, but if you can’t, we encourage you to take a few minutes to study and consider these tips to help keep your family safe.

New Zealand Fire Service’s Escape My House Safety Tips:

  • Make sure everyone in the household knows the safe meeting place so you know if everyone has safely escaped.
  • Have an escape plan to get everyone quickly to the safe meeting place.
  • Your escape plan must start with having working smoke alarms to alert you to a fire.
  • Have more than one exit from every room.
  • Be aware of what obstacles are in your way that could block your escape path.
  • In the event of a fire leave your possessions behind, just get out fast!
  • Close doors to prevent the spread of fire
  • Get down, get low, get out and stay out.

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