More than a third of all serious fires in New York City happen during the winter months, when people often resort to unsafe measures, as they attempt to heat their homes and stay warm. As a result, there are many preventable fires resulting in unnecessary loss of life and property.
Some fires are caused by unattended open flames, such as decorative or commemorative candles, fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. They should never be left unattended and you should always extinguish them completely before going to bed at night.
Other fires are caused by electric heating equipment and the devices used in conjunction with them, like extension cords and power strips. Portable space heaters and electric blankets can be extremely dangerous if they are poorly maintained, inappropriately powered, or – in the case of space heaters – placed too close to combustible objects. You should not purchase these products, or any power strips or extension cords unless they are Underwriters’ Laboratory (UL) approved and have the UL mark. You should also periodically check the integrity of these products to ensure that they don’t become too worn or damaged for use.
Most importantly, every home should have working smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide detectors. These devices save lives. We know this because in nearly 80 percent of the fire deaths in recent years, the Fire Department found no working smoke alarm present.
We have made education about the importance of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms a cornerstone of our Fire Safety Education (FSE) effort. Teams of Fire Safety Educators conduct hundreds of information sessions each year throughout the city, reaching about 600,000 New Yorkers every year, and at the same time they distribute hundreds of thousands of free smoke and carbon monoxide alarm batteries and tens of thousands of detectors.
During the last year we’ve focused our fire safety efforts on communities impacted by Sandy, because of the many problems associated with the storm in these areas. Dozens of serious fires occurred both during and in the aftermath of the storm, as salt water impacted home electrical systems, and residents in these areas resorted to unconventional and even dangerous ways of heating and powering their homes. This winter, through the Hurricane Sandy Fire Safe Program, Fire Safety Educators have been reaching out to older New Yorkers in areas of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island that were hit hardest by the storm, hosting educational events, visiting homes to conduct fire safety reviews and discuss fire safety exit plans, and installing smoke, carbon monoxide and hard-of-hearing alarms.
The FDNY has done an extraordinary job in reducing the number of fatal fires in New York City in the last decade – which has been overall the safest in nearly a century of recordkeeping. But, even one death by fire is too many – so, our goal and commitment is to do everything possible to protect everyone from the danger of fires and that starts with prevention.
Please do your part in protecting yourself and your family by adhering to these basic winter fire safety tips, which can be viewed in full at: on.nyc.gov/JhUFjt.
Remember – working smoke detectors save lives! Please make sure you have them in your home!
Salvatore J. Cassano is New York City’s 32nd Fire Commissioner
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