This is a guest blog post from the Department of Fire Services (DFS).
From 2011– 2015, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 2,730 home fires caused by electrical problems.
These fires caused 41 deaths, 111 injuries, 275 firefighter injuries, and one firefighter death. Electrical fires were one of the leading causes of fire-related deaths in the past five years.
However, simple safety tips from DFS and regular home maintenance can reduce the risk of electrical fires, keeping you and your family safe.
Prevent Electrical Fires at Home: The Basics
You can help prevent electrical fires at home simply by using your home’s electrical system properly. Look around for electrical hazards in your home and correct them. Certain items can expose you and your family to the risk of fire, such as:
- Electrical cords under rugs or pinched behind furniture
- Overloaded outlets
- Laptops and phones charging on beds or sofas
Another way to prevent electrical fires is to practice electrical safety. Simple tips to protect your family include:
- Unplugging Items from Overloaded Outlets or Circuits — Fires often start when too many things are plugged into a single outlet or circuit, overloading them.
- Using Extension Cords Properly — Another frequent cause of fires 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. Cords can easily become pinched by furniture and, over time, lead to a fire.
- Unplugging Appliances by Grasping the Plug — Don’t pull by the cord.
- Using Light Bulbs of the Correct Wattage in Lamps and Fixtures — Bulbs whose wattage is too high can overheat the fixture or wiring, which this can cause an electrical fire. Switching to LED lights can provide the same amount of light at a lower wattage.
- Hiring a Licensed Electrician — If you need to have electrical work done in your home for any reason, hire a licensed professional who knows the code.
In addition to using appliances and outlets safely, every Massachusetts resident should take steps to keep the electrical system in their home in good working order, maintain their home’s smoke alarms, and learn the warning signs of an electrical fire or faulty electrical system.
Tune Up Electrical Systems Every 10 Years
The need to plug many things into a single outlet or the reliance on extension cords is a sign it’s time to have an electrician review your system. Fire officials recommend having a licensed electrician review your home every 10 years. Small upgrades and simple safety checks, like making sure outdoor grounds and connections are secure, can prevent larger problems. Electricians can:
- Make sure circuit breakers are working properly
- Place ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles near sinks, bathrooms, and outdoors to prevent electrocution
- Install tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs) that prevent young children from accessing outlets
Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years
Smoke alarms have a life span of about 10 years and should be replaced when they reach that age. Look for the date of manufacture to determine the age of your home’s detectors.
Know the Warning Signs
Call your local fire department immediately if you notice warning signs like arcs, sparks, or short circuits. Other warning signs include hearing a sizzling or buzzing sound or smelling a vague odor of something burning. Firefighters can use thermal imaging technology to see excessive heat inside the walls. Immediate attention to these signs can save lives and prevent an electrical fire.
Call a professional electrician soon if you have other warning signs, including:
- 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 — when touching a switch or outlet
- Loose outlets or unusually warm or faulty outlets or switches
Peter J. Ostroskey is the State Fire Marshal and heads the state Department of Fire Services.
Questions about electrical safety or how to prevent fires in your home? Comment or tweet us @DFSPIO.
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