Space heater safety tips: After New York and Philadelphia fires, experts explain how to use space heaters safely

PHILADELPHIA – The tragic fires in New York City on Sunday and in Philadelphia last Wednesday underscore the importance of safety as more and more people seek to tackle the heat in their homes.

A space heater ignited an inferno that killed 17 people, including eight children, in the Bronx.

“It started with a malfunctioning electrical space heater, which was the cause of the fire,” said New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro.

Sadly, fires caused by space heaters are all too common. The National Fire Protection Association says space heaters cause 44 percent of home heating-related fires and 85 percent of related deaths.

No question: if you are using one, you need to be extremely careful.

“You want to look at it and make sure it’s properly tested around heating elements that you know young children and pets can’t easily burn,” said Acting Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner, Thomas Cook said.

Alternatively, choose a space heater that has a thermostat, overheat protection, and turns off automatically when the temperature is ripe.

Other tips:

  • Place your space heater on a smooth, bare floor.
  • Do not place it on a shelf, stool or cardboard box
  • Avoid carpets and rugs
  • Never tilt your space heater
  • Never keep it in a humid place such as a kitchen/bathroom unless it is designed for it
  • Manufacturers recommend plugging your space heater directly into a wall outlet instead of surge arresters or extension cords.
  • Place your space heater a few feet away from the wall where it’s plugged in.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends using the three-foot rule: place heaters three feet away from anything flammable including furniture and curtains.

Also, keep it three feet away from people, especially children.

And never leave a fireplace in a room unattended. Turn off and unplug when you go to sleep.

And an important reminder about smoke alarms: never remove the battery unless you replace it, and never turn off the alarm. Alarms with built-in batteries can be permanently disabled with a tool.

“You can see it here on the back of this alarm and it has some very detailed instructions and this is only used at the end of the alarm’s life,” said Sharon Cooksey of Kidde. Kidde’s Cooksey said.

Once it is disabled, the detector will no longer work. It must be discarded and replaced immediately.

Additionally, New York City officials said residents fleeing the fire where the unit started left the door open and that allowed the fire to spread through the building.

In Philadelphia, some buildings are required to have self-closing doors. Make sure your building is compliant. Read the rules and talk to your building supervisor.

National Fire Protection Association: Electric Space Heater Safety

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Dais Johnston

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