Electrical Safety

The Chief’s Corner

Fire Safety Tips from James Levine,
Fire Chief of the Upper Saddle River Fire Department and
20 year veteran of the New Jersey fire service.

A leading cause of home structure fires relates to electrical distribution equipment.  Included here are all the components in your house that function to deliver electricity where it’s required, such as fuse/breaker boxes, wiring, switches, receptacles and outlets.  Add to this your light fixtures, lamps, light bulbs, cords and plugs and you have plenty of places for things to “go wrong.”  Each year, upwards of 32,000 home structure fires are associated with electrical distribution.  These fires account for numerous deaths and  injuries as well as millions of dollars in damaged property each year.  So what can be done to avoid such tragedy or at least lessen its likelihood?  We’ll give you some KISS (Keep it simple) RULES to give you an edge here.

Just like people, electrical equipment is never perfect nor is it immortal.  Electrical equipment is prone to failure and has a finite lifetime.  Older homes with old fixtures and aged wiring are invitations to such disaster. Wiring, switches, and other electrical equipment are involved, annually, in about half of all reported home structure fires resulting from electrical distribution equipment.  KISS RULE #1:  Make sure all of the wiring in your home is brought up to current electrical code standards.  If you are unsure about whether or not this has been done in your home, be sure to consult a licensed electrician.

OK, so what else can we do to cut down on the risk of this type of house fire?  Let’s be careful with all those extension cords!  Extension cord fires outnumber fires originating from attached or unattached power cords by more than two-to-one.  KISS RULE #2:  Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets.  Why? Because this causes the insulation to cut or separate and then to expose energized electrical wires.  Not Good, right?  Also, let’s replace or carefully repair (with electrical tape) all frayed or damaged cords.  This goes for the cords to all devices, not just the extension cord.

Special attention to electrical distribution equipment must be made if you have small children in the house.  These curious beings love to explore each nook and cranny in the house and can easily reach open electrical receptacles with those little and often wet fingers!  The result can be tragic.  KISS RULE # 3:  Plastic safety covers should be installed in all exposed outlets in homes with small children?

Now that you’ve checked your wiring, made all necessary repairs and covered your exposed outlets, does it end there?  A big “NO”.  You want to check that any high wattage appliances have dedicated circuits, if possible, and at the very least, are not plugged into receptacles along with other equipment.  KISS RULE #4:  Avoid overloading outlets.  If any of your outlets feel warm to the touch, shut them off and have them checked by an electrician.  Ignoring this symptom is an obvious invitation to disaster. Also, try to avoid “cube taps.”  These are devices that allow multiple appliances to connect to a single receptacle.

Another common source for electrical fires in homes is lamps, especially high wattage and/or halogen lamps.  Place lamps on level surfaces and away from other objects that can burn.  My personal bias is to turn all halogen lamps off when you are not in the room, as they are much more prone to fires than incandescent lamps.   Finally, KISS RULE # 5:  Make sure that the bulb does not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended wattage.  Oh yes, an “overwattaged” bulb can cause the lamp to fail and result in what we are, herein, trying to avoid: a house fire! 

Let’s be safe in there- your home, that is.

Questions?  Or thinking of becoming a volunteer firefighter?  E-mail Chief Levine at:  USRFD1230@prodigy.net