State Fire Marshal: May is Electrical Safety Month

Electrical Fires Second Leading Cause of Home Fire Deaths
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey (Lower Cape TV)

“Electrical fires are the second leading cause of home fire deaths in Massachusetts,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “The best ways to prevent electrical fires are to have a licensed electrician do all work, have your system reviewed every ten years, and don’t overload outlets.”

Know the Warning Signs

“Call your local fire department immediately if you have warning signs such as arcs, sparks, or short circuits,” advises Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts President Timothy J. Grenno. “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.”

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.

Electrical Fires Caused 4 Deaths and $43.6 Million in Damages Last Year

In Massachusetts in 2018, there were 728 electrical fires in buildings. They caused four civilian deaths, 22 injuries, 98 fire service injuries and an estimated $43.6 million in property damages. Most of these electrical fires, 78%, were in people’s homes.

  • Last August, an elderly Weston woman died in an electrical fire which was caused by either an overloaded extension cord (space heater, cable box and TV all plugged into the same cord) or resistive heating of the cord because books, clothing and other items were stacked on top of it for a long period of time. Electrical cords need to dissipate the small amount of heat they produce into the air.

Don’t Overload Circuits or Daisy Chain Extension Cords and Power Strips

One way to prevent electrical fires is to practice electrical safety. Plugging too many things into a single outlet or circuit overloads them and starts fires. Another frequent cause is using extension cords. Plug all heat-producing appliances, like space heaters, irons, and toasters, directly into the wall outlet; otherwise, the safety mechanism of circuit breakers and fuses is
by-passed. Do not “daisy chain” extension cords together; each connection is another possible failure point.

  • On March 31, 2019, a Brewster family had an electrical fire start when a space heater was left running unattended in the basement. The heater was plugged into an extension cord which was daisy chained into a power strip. The power strip became overloaded.

Give Electrical Systems a Tune-Up Every 10 Years

Extension cords are designed for temporary use, but many people leave them in place permanently and forget about them. Plugging many things into a single outlet or reliance on extension cords are signs it is time 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 such as making sure outdoor grounds and connections are secure can prevent larger problems without breaking the bank.

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. Charge these devices on a hard surface.

  • A 2013 fire in a Framingham State dormitory started when a laptop was left charging on a bed. Fortunately, a single sprinkler head contained the fire and none of the 373 students were injured or displaced long-term.

Hire a Licensed Electrician

“Hire a licensed electrician who knows the code. Resist doing your own electrical work unless you are a licensed electrician,” said Ostroskey.

Keep Furniture from Pinching Cords

Heavy furniture can easily pinch an electrical cord and over time that can lead to a fire. Do not run cords underneath rugs; it is both a trip and a fire hazard. Unplug appliances by grasping the plug; do not pull by the cord.

For more information on electrical fire safety go to: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/electrical-fire-safety .


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