The upcoming holiday season is a festive time of year. It’s getting colder, so we try to stay warm, we invite friends and family over, cook more, light candles, maybe burn a fire in the fireplace or use space heaters, buy Christmas trees and string them up with lights, and fill our homes with other decorations. That is why the winter season is also unfortunately known as the fire season, and more than one-third of all home fires occur between December, January, and February.
Early during our administration, in January 2022, 17 people were killed and many more were injured in a tragic fire at the Twin Parks apartment building in the Bronx. The fire was caused by a defective space heater and self-closing doors that didn’t work properly. That loss and devastation remains with us, which is why we are asking all New Yorkers to work together and take some basic precautions this winter season so that we can make this a safe and happy time of celebration.
Smoking materials, like cigarette butts, ashes, lighters, and matches, are the leading cause of home fires. Make sure they are discarded properly in large, deep ashtrays. Smoking is followed by home heating as the second leading cause of home fires. Make sure your equipment — including central heating units, portable and fixed space heaters, as well as fireplaces — are installed by a qualified technician, and inspected and cleaned regularly. All space heaters should have the “Underwriters Laboratories” (UL) mark on them. Never use an extension cord with a space heater, and avoid using space heaters in places like bathrooms, where they can come into contact with water. And make sure to put out the fire in your fireplace completely before you go to sleep.
Candle fires have tripled in the past 10 years — most of these happen when the candles are left unattended or are lit next to combustible materials like paper or fabric. If you enjoy candles in your home, make sure to be present at all times while the candle is burning; keep candles away from flammable materials like curtains, decorations, and bedding; and also place them out of reach of children and pets.
Electric blankets and extension cords are another source of potential danger. They should also have the (UL) mark. Please replace your electric blanket if it is more than 10 years old and buy ones with an automatic shut-off. Also, inspect the condition of your extension cords, make sure that all outlets and switches have cover plates that are not discolored (a possible sign of overheating), and however much you have going on, please don’t overload your outlets with more than two appliances.
If you are buying an artificial Christmas tree, buy one that is flame retardant. Position your trees near outlets so that you don’t have to use extension cords and unplug tree lights when you are not in the room or are going to sleep.
If you own an e-bike or other micro-mobility device, never charge it overnight or leave batteries unattended while charging. Don’t store devices between you and the exit of your home (the batteries can explode, trapping you inside.) Ideally, do not store your batteries or devices indoors at all.
Finally, remember that smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide detectors save lives. Make sure to check your smoke alarms and replace the batteries twice a year. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is released during fires or by malfunctioning heating equipment. Carbon monoxide kills, so a working carbon monoxide detector is essential. It is also required by law in New York City.
Let’s make 2023 the safest holiday season ever so that we can all celebrate our festivals, families, friends, and this beautiful city we call home. Happy holidays!
For more fire safety information, please visit fdnysmart.org.