Local fire official issues warning about space heater safety


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The City of Philadelphia saw 13 people die, including 7 children in a row house apartment fire on Wednesday as a 5 year-old boy who escaped told investigators that he accidentally lit a Christmas tree while playing with a lighter.

Days later, 19 people, including 9 children died in the same instance in The Bronx on Sunday due to a faulty space heater. 

With the two tragedies occurring in less than a week, Americans are looking for ways to avoid a similar situation in their own homes by implementing fire safety strategies in their own homes.

Jackson Township Fire Chief Tim Berczik appeared on “Live and Local with Jordan Miller” on 1480 WHBC Monday and he says that space heaters have their purpose but it comes with safety measurements.

“When you hear ‘space heaters’, right away there might be some negative connotations like ‘never use them.’ which is not the case because they have a purpose,” Bercik says. “They’re there to keep us warm in the winter, but there are some precautions and things we do need to look out for. A lot of it is common sense. You don’t want to leave these things unattended, and I don’t mean you need to sit there and watch it the whole time, but they need to be in a room where somebody can keep an eye on it in case something bad does happen. A lot of them have kill switches if they tip over or they get too hot, but those are ones that are UL tested and if you’re going to buy a cheap one, you’re going to get cheap. So, make sure whatever one you do get, if you get one, that it is UL approved. Another huge aspect is to keep them away from flammable items. We shouldn’t put them on carpeting, we shouldn’t put them near drapes, near things that can catch on fire when they heat up.”

Berczik also notes that some tend to use extension cords for their space heaters, causing them to melt down the cord and improve one’s chances of danger occuring.

“Space heaters need to be plugged directly into an outlet,” says Berczik. “The use of extension cords and power strips. These things draw a lot of power and they’re not plugged directly into outlets. The electrical cord itself can cause an issue. So that’s another thing we really want to push is use the extension cords and power strips are useful anyway. But to have one of these things plugged into those, they tend to melt down the cord and cause another issue for which we don’t want.”

In a statement sent to JMN from the Jackson Township Fire Department, space heaters annually account for 40% of reported home heating fires in the U.S. and 84% of five associated civilian deaths.

Berczik says that a good way to avoid that is through carbon monoxide detectors, which needs to be taken care of. 

“We have the ability to put carbon monoxide detectors in our homes so if you are going to use one, it needs to be well vented, but it is very imperative that we put smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in areas where you might use a kerosene heater just to protect those that are there.”

According to that statement, the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration have teamed up for a joint fire safety campaign titled “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires” urging everyone to use extreme caution when using space heaters, keeping things that can burn at least 3 feet away from space heaters, and creating a three-foot “kid-free zone” around them. 

Berczik agrees that keeping kids safe from space heaters is a huge factor in avoiding a disaster.

“Kids are curious by nature,” says Berczik. “You can tell them ‘don’t touch’, ‘don’t touch’, ‘don’t touch’. But these things are hot so make sure you keep them away from where your kids are just so we don’t get them burned.”