“May is Electrical Safety Month. Take a few minutes to look around for electrical hazards in your home and correct them,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Items such as electrical cords under rugs or pinched behind furniture, overloaded outlets, and laptops and phones charging on beds or sofas can expose you and your family to fire,” he added.
Don’t Overload Circuits or Daisy Chain Extension Cords and Power Strips
One way to prevent electrical fires is to practice electrical safety. Fires often start when too many things are plugged into a single outlet or circuit, overloading them. Another frequent cause is using extension cords, especially with appliances that generate heat like space heaters, irons, and toasters. Extension cords are designed for temporary use, but many people leave them in place permanently and forget about them.
A March 2016 Pepperell fire was caused by a series of extension cords and power strips daisy chained together to serve an entertainment center and its components.
Keep Furniture from Pinching Cords; Use Correct Wattage Light Bulbs
A cord can easily become pinched by heavy furniture and over time eventually lead to a fire. Don’t run cords underneath rugs; it’s both a trip and a fire hazard. Unplug appliances by grasping the plug; don’t pull by the cord. Use the correct wattage light bulbs in lamps and fixtures.
Give Electrical Systems a Tune-Up Every 10 Years
The need to plug many things into a single outlet or reliance on extension cords, are signs to have an electrician review your system. Fire officials recommend having a licensed electrician review a home’s electrical system every ten years. Small upgrades and simple safety checks like making sure outdoor grounds and connections are secure can prevent larger problems.
Electrical arcing in a second floor bedroom started an early morning fire in Dedham last August. A 52-year old woman died; two others and a firefighter were also injured. The building had no smoke alarms or sprinklers. Damages were estimated to be $85,000.
Know the Warning Signs
“Call your local fire department immediately if you have warning signs such as arcs, sparks, or short circuits,” advises State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “Other warning signs include hearing a sizzling or buzzing sound or smelling a vague odor of something burning. Immediate attention to these signs can save lives,” he added, “Firefighters can use thermal imaging technology to see excessive heat inside the walls.”
On the afternoon of November 16, 2015, the Cambridge Fire Department responded to an electrical fire in a three-unit apartment building. An overloaded electrical cord ignited some nearby drapes. Four firefighters were injured at this fire. The building did not have sprinklers or smoke alarms. Damages were estimated to be $205,000.
Call a professional electrician soon if you have any of these warning signs:
- Frequently blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers;
- Dim or flickering lights, bulbs that wear out too fast;
- Overheated plugs, cords or switches;
- Shock or mild tingle – more than normal static electricity;
- Loose outlets or unusually warm or faulty outlets or switches.
Hire a Licensed Electrician
“Hire a licensed electrician who knows the code. Resist doing your own electrical work or hiring a handy neighbor or your brother-in-law unless you or they are licensed electricians,” said Ostroskey.
Don’t Charge Your Cell Phone or Laptop in Bed
There have been a number of fires from cell phones charging underneath pillows and laptops left running on top of the bed covers. Cell phones and laptops are always processing when running or charging. Blocking or covering them can prevent air from cooling the batteries and lead to a fire. Failures of lithium ion batteries are more likely to occur during recharging. These devices should be charged while on a hard surface.
41 Deaths in Electrical Fires 2011-2014
From 2011 to 2015, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 2,730 home fires caused by electrical problems. These fires caused 41 civilian deaths, 111 civilian injuries, 275 fire service injuries and one firefighter death. Electrical fires were the number one or the number two cause of fire deaths from 2011-2014.
For more information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9 NO FIRE or on-line at www.mass.gov/dfs and look for Fire Safety Topics.