State Fire Marshal issues tips in advance of Electrical Safety Month in May

HYANNIS – “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.

“Look for overloaded outlets; make sure heat generating appliances are plugged directly into the outlet, not a power strip or extension cord; make sure electrical cords are not underneath rugs or pinched behind furniture, and laptops and phones are charged only on hard surfaces, not on beds or sofas.” 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 February 2017 Fall River fire took the life of a 50-year old woman who re-entered the building to fight it. The fire started when a space heater overloaded a power strip.

A March 2017 Milton fire took the lives of two elderly men when an oil-filled space heater overloaded an extension cord.

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.

On March 8, 2016, at 7:20 a.m., an electrical fire in a West Newbury home took the like of a sleeping 82-year old man. The neutral wire for the electrical service had become disconnected and is the most probable cause of the fire that started by arcing in the basement washing machine. Three firefighters were injured and estimated damages are $500,000. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.

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 August 31, 2016, at 12:25 a.m., the Boston Fire Department responded to an electrical fire in
3-unit apartment building. A short circuit in a bathroom ceiling fan on the second floor started the fire. Estimated damages are $1 million.

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.

43 Deaths in Electrical Fires 2011-2015

From 2011 to 2015, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 2,750 home fires caused by electrical problems. These fires caused 43 civilian deaths, one fire service death, 110 civilian injuries, 278 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $137.9 million. Electrical fires were the number one or the number two cause of fire deaths from 2011-2015. Preliminary 2016 figures show electrical fires continue to be a leading cause of fire deaths.

For more information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9 NO FIREor on-line at www.mass.gov/dfs and look for Fire Safety Topics.