May is Electrical Safety Month
Help Your Home Keep Up with Modern Life
STOW ‒ Fire officials announced that May is Electrical Safety Month and urge everyone to take time to make sure they are practicing electrical safety.
Was your house built before everyone had washers, dryers, dishwashers, toaster ovens microwaves, air conditioners, coffee makers, computers and gaming consoles? Maybe it is time to have your electrical system checked out by a professional to see if it has kept up with your needs.
“People seem to be as afraid of calling an electrician for a check-up as they are of going to the dentist. But if you are using extension cords permanently instead of temporarily or converting a 3-prong appliance to fit in a 2-prong outlet, those are signs it is time to make that call,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Small upgrades over time can ensure your home safely keeps up with modern life for your family or your tenants,” he added.
Chief Michael C. Newbury, president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts said, “There’s no great mystery to preventing electrical fires. Don’t overload circuits or power strips; know the warning signs; and have an electrician check out your system every ten years.”
Know the Warning Signs
“Call your local fire department immediately if you have warning signs such as arcs, sparks, or short circuits,” advises Chief Newbury. “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;
- Permanently using power strips or extension cords;
- Defeating the ground plug on appliances so they fit into a 2-prong outlet.
Don’t Overload Circuits and Power Strips
“During the warm weather, we see many fires started by air conditioners plugged into extension cords or power strips instead of directly into the outlet,” said Ostroskey, “They are not designed to carry the power load of heavy duty appliances.”
Another way to prevent electrical fires is to limit the number of devices plugged into any single outlet or circuit. Plugging too many things into a single outlet or circuit can overload them and start fires.
- Shortly after midnight on January 5, 2020, the Fitchburg Fire Department responded to a fatal electrical fire in a two-family home. Arcing from a surge protector in the living room ignited a nearby pillow. The victims, a 61-year old man and a 50-year old man, were asleep at the time of the fire. The building did not have sprinklers and damages from this fire were estimated to be $79,000.
- On April 12, 2020, at 2:22 a.m., the Nantucket Fire Department responded to a fatal electrical fire in a single-family home. An unspecified short circuit arc in the living room started the fire. The victim was a 27-year old man. The home did not have any smoke alarms. The building did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $389,548.
- On August 2, 2020, at 4:30 p.m., the Worcester Fire Department responded to a fatal electrical fire in a single-family home. An unspecified electrical malfunction in an office in the home started the fire. The victim was a 50-year old man. One firefighter was injured at this fire. It was undetermined if the home had any smoke alarms but it did not have sprinklers. Damages from this fire were estimated to be $207,000.
Avoid Using Extension Cords
Another frequent cause of fires is using extension cords. Avoid using them if possible, but remember they are for temporary use only and not designed to substitute for the wall outlet. Plug all heat-producing and major appliances like space heaters, irons, toasters and air conditioners directly into the wall outlet; otherwise, the safety mechanism provided by circuit breakers and fuses is nullified. Do not link extension cords together; each connection is another possible failure point.
- Around noontime on July 14, 2020, the Cambridge Fire Department responded to an electrical fire in an 8-unit apartment building. Five (5) firefighters were injured at this fire started by an extension cord. The building did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $600,000. The fire spread to a nearby building causing another $10,000 in damage.
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 hazard and a fire hazard. Unplug appliances by grasping the plug; do not pull by the cord.
Electrical Fires Caused 27 Deaths and Nearly $400 Million in Damages (2015-2019)
From 2015 – 2019, Massachusetts fire departments reported 2,751 home fires caused by electrical problems. These fires caused 27 civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, 72 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $38.5 million. Electrical fires are the second leading cause of fire deaths in Massachusetts.
For more information on electrical fire safety in English and Spanish go to https://www.mass.gov/service-details/electrical-fire-safety.