Sunday’s fatal apartment building fire in the Bronx — which killed at least nine adults and eight children and caused serious injury to many others — should serve as a stark reminder that keeping warm in the winter can be dangerous.
Among the causes of that fire, officials said, was a malfunctioning space heater in one of the apartments.
With local temperatures plummeting to their lowest levels of the winter so far this week, homeowners and apartment dwellers will be more reliant on space heaters to supplement their heat.
Modern space heaters are generally safe.
But as we saw from the Bronx fire, a malfunctioning heater or one being used inappropriately can prove deadly.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters account for one-third of all home fires and four out of five home-heating fire deaths.
One key to safe operation is placement.
Place space heaters on a firm, level surface, and make sure to keep it at least three feet from bedding, curtains, rugs, paper and other potentially flammable materials.
Don’t place a space heater in a high-traffic area where people are likely to trip over the cord and knock the device over. Never let kids or pets play too closely to one.
Never use a space heater with an extension cord or power strip. Because of the amount of energy they draw, not plugging them directly into an outlet could result in the heaters overheating and causing a fire.
Make sure the electrical cord on the heater isn’t frayed or damaged. Avoid using them in bathrooms or other areas where they are likely to be exposed to water.
And make sure to turn them off when you leave the room or are sleeping.
If you’re going out to purchase one, ensure it has automatic shutoff and a thermostat, that it can’t be tipped over easily, and that it bears the Underwriters Laboratories mark.
Depending on the type of space heater you have, take the appropriate precautions.
The state Health Department post a safety guide for supplemental space heaters at https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/heaters/safety guide.htm.
In addition to all the precautions specific to space heaters, make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. Most of the victims in the Bronx fire died from smoke inhalation.
If the detectors aren’t working properly, replace them or the batteries, or call your landlord if you rent
Also make sure exits and stairwells are not blocked and that fire doors are operational.
No one should die trying to stay warm in the winter.
If you’re using a space heater, take a few moments to ensure you’re using them safely.