Updated: Sep 14, 2019
The New Zealand Fire Service are collecting ashes from real house fires, and have been using them in different ways to try and connect with kiwis about the devastating effects fire can have on people. They’re calling it “Made from Remains”
Where do I fit into this? Well, I was in a fire but my house didn’t burn down. And that’s the one thing I always say to remind myself of how lucky I was 10 years ago.
We had been taught safe cooking skills. However, nothing is ever safe and humans are not invincible. Our family didn’t own a deep fryer, so I used to have to shallow fry on the stove. I’d do the usual, let it heat up – then throw my potatoes/whatever I was making in. This time around – my pot of oil caught fire.
I turned my back for what to this day still feels like a second. I can remember hearing a “bang” and I remember turning around and thinking “dad is going to kill me” – little did I know killing me would be the last thing on his mind that day.
I watched my stove top burst into flames. The fire was so high it went up the walls. Flames can become as high as the ceiling within two minutes and I panicked. Like ANYONE would. Dad was a bushman at the time, and we had fire extinguishers in the house. Little did I know a powder extinguisher on an oil fire = not a good idea.
Instinct first, get that fire out! So I pulled in the pin on the extinguisher – and the fire on my stove came straight towards me. I can still remember what I was wearing. A lace singlet from Jay Jays. I’ve never worn that type of top again.
I’m going to go into what I can remember about the day. I will describe what I saw, and pains I felt, so this is where you turn off if you need to.
I managed to get the fire out. I can’t quite remember how – but I remember being in so much pain that felt like I should’ve just left it and ran.
This was the days of dial up internet, so I had to yank the cord out of the wall – I dialled 111 first. While on the phone I remember looking down and seeing the skin on my left hand was red and black. And I felt like my chest was caving in. I dropped the phone and ran to the bathroom.
Like most teenagers I had my cellphone on me. I know I called my dad and he was out of service. So I rang a family friend, who I thought didn’t answer (she did, I apparently hung up on her, panic obviously) and then my dads partner. She came.
I know I got in the shower. Clothes and all. I was burning. I couldn’t get my lace shirt off, it felt stuck to me. I know to this day getting in the shower was the best thing I could have done for my body.
I remember the ambulance guy wore glasses and had a really soft voice. And I remember thinking – please make this stop. I remember him trying to cut my shirt off and saying over and over again, I am so sorry, we have to do this. I remember asking why they hadn’t given me pain killers. They had – he said, I had had the maximum amount.
I don’t remember an awful lot after that.
Fast forward, I was in hospital for about four days. I had burns on my chest, arms and left hand. I had bandages on for six weeks. I was incredibly lucky. I did not need skin grafts. However my hand didn’t heal very well. The skin was so tight and my hand was hard to use for months afterwards. I did need a nurses help to shower and change my dressings everyday. She also used to help me make me lunch because I couldn’t bring myself to go into the kitchen alone. Not many people know that.
To this day I know I am SO LUCKY. The house didn’t burn down. I didn’t have to endure years of visits to plastic surgeons/burn specialists. The stove still worked afterwards, the smoke damaged wiped away with a cloth and I’m alive.
I’ll reiterate. My visible scaring is minimal despite my injuries. My emotional scaring however to this day a different story. Just ask my partner. We moved into our current home, our first home. And our fire alarm is rigged to the house alarm. And I kept begging him to check if it worked. He knew it did. Didn’t matter. I fretted. I panicked over it. And then one day I set it off. I’m calmer now. I know it works. Many people have smoke alarms, but don’t maintain them or check them regularly enough. CHECK THEM NOW.
I’ve yelled at landlords for not having smoke alarms. I’ve brought them myself. Did you know 80 per cent of the house fires the New Zealand Fire Service attend have no working smoke alarms?
I’ve slowly gotten used to lighting the fire but I HATE having my left hand near it. We lived in a house with a gas stove top – that was a tough ride for my mind for the first couple of months. And don’t get me started on fireworks and trying to light candles. It takes a lot of strength I can tell you.
The New Zealand Fire Service says people often don’t realise the true potential of house fires and how devastating they can be. My house didn’t burn down so I cannot imagine the pain, the grief of losing important possessions, my four walls, or even someone I love. But I feel like I can sympathise to an extent. Hopefully my story and many others you’ll read in the media can encourage you to be safer, and educate yourself, and your family about the dangers of fire. It can happen to anyone.
SMOKE ALARM TIPS FROM NZFS:
• Regularly check your smoke alarms and their batteries • Have an alarm in every bedroom and main living area on every level of a house • Have an escape plan in the event of a fire, including a safe place to meet • Once out, don’t go back inside, even to call 111 • Do that from a cellphone or a neighbour’s • If you leave the kitchen, turn elements off • Check on elderly relatives, friends or neighbours and make sure they have working alarms