Inhaling smoke can kill in just three minutes
It takes as little as three minutes to die of smoke inhalation in a fire, yet there are still homes in Ireland with no smoke alarms, fire experts have warned.
As National Fire Safety Week is officially launched, new figures show that 36 people on average die in Ireland every year as a result of fires.
And it is house fires that account for the vast majority of fire fatalities.
"In most of these incidents, a level of fire safety education and awareness could have prevented the loss of life in a fire or limited the damage," said Paudie Coffey, Junior Minister at the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.
National Fire Safety Week, which is run in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, involves awareness activities up to October 13.
"Having smoke alarms fitted is not enough, they must also be in good working order," said Mr Coffey. "It is also crucial that you and your family know what to do if a smoke alarm activates."
He said this year's National Fire Safety Week theme - Protecting those Most at Risk from Fire - is about enhancing fire safety, particularly in the home.
He asked family members, relatives and friends of the vulnerable to ensure they are protected against the risk of fire.
"Unfortunately, on average of 36 people die in Ireland each year as a result of fire," said Mr Coffey in Dublin Fire Brigade's Training Centre in the O'Brien Institute in Marino yesterday.
"Both the very young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable and these groups account for almost half of the domestic fatalities," he added.
The numbers killed in fire incidents attended by the fire brigade service are still high - but appear to be on the decline.
In 2013, 24 people were killed - a drop from 2012's figure of 28. And, in 2011, there were 38 deaths in fires in the country. However, 2009 claimed the highest number of victims at 42.
While National Fire Safety Week marks the beginning of an intensive media advertising campaign to run until spring, the minister stated that it was imperative that "public awareness of the dangers of fire be maintained throughout the year".
National Fire Safety Week has it roots in the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred on October 8, 1871.
The former American President, Calvin Coolidge, proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week in 1925, in memory of those who perished in that Fire.
Since then, in early October 143 years later, it has been observed each year in countries around the world.
The key messages of the campaign are that there are still homes with no smoke alarms, and most people who die in fires die from smoke inhalation and not from burns.
Mr Coffey said a routine fire safety check only takes a few minutes but could mean the difference between life and death.
For information on fire safety see www.firesafetyweek.ie.