May is National Electrical Safety Month
May is National Electrical Safety Month, and State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan wants to raise the public’s awareness about potential electrical home hazards and the importance of electrical safety. “Hire a licensed electrician who knows the code. Resist doing your own electrical work or hiring a handy neighbor or your brother-in -law unless you or they are licensed electricians,” said Coan. In January 2013, an elderly man died in his Barre home after an improperly wired kitchen light finally ignited nearby combustible materials. Sadly, there were no working smoke alarms in the house.
Electrical fires continue to be one of the leading causes of residential structural fire deaths in Massachusetts. In 2013, five people died in electrical home fires in Massachusetts; it was the number two cause of fire deaths behind smoking. In Shrewsbury, an elderly man died in a fire in November 2013 when an electric space heater, an electric blanket and extension cords were plugged into an outlet.
Preventing Electrical Fires at Home
Fire officials offer the following electrical fire safety tips:
- Avoid overloading circuits and be especially careful with heat generating appliances like space heaters, irons, and toasters. The need to plug many things into a single outlet is a sign to have an electrician review your system.
- Have a licensed electrician look at your electrical system every ten years. Making sure outdoor grounds and connections are secure can prevent problems.
- Smoke alarms need to be replaced every ten years, including hard-wired alarms.
- All electrical work should be done by a licensed electrician who has first obtained a permit when required (minor work does not require a permit). The permit process helps protect homeowners by verifying that the work is done correctly and meets the code.
- Inspect all extension cords. Discard any that are cracked or frayed and replace with new ones having a certification label from an independent testing laboratory. Never nail a cord or wire to the wall.
- Cords should be used according to their ratings (indoor or outdoor use) and according to the power needs of the appliance that is being plugged in.
- When unplugging any cord, do so by grasping the plug end. Do not pull on the cord as over time this can cause the cord to fail.
- Make sure you have ground fault breakers installed in your bathroom and kitchen.
- When leaving laptop computers, iPads, and cell phones charging, have them on a solid surface such as a desk or countertop. Leaving them on a bed, couch or chair can cause them to overheat and catch the material on fire.
Look around for electrical hazards in your home and correct them,” said State Fire Marshal Coan. “Items such as electrical cords under rugs or pinched behind furniture, overloaded outlets, and laptops and phones charging on beds or sofas can expose you and your family to fire,” he added.
Potential Warning Signs and Hazards
“Call your local fire department immediately if you have warning signs such as arcs, sparks, or short circuits,” advises State Fire Marshal Coan. “Other warning signs include hearing a sizzling or buzzing sound and a vague smell of something burning. Immediate attention to these signs can save lives,” he added.
Call a professional electrician soon if you have any of these warning signs:
- 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;
- Loose plugs; or unusually warm or faulty outlets or switches.
For more information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9 NO FIRE or on-line at www.mass.gov/dfs and look for Fire Safety Topics.
Photos from U.S. Fire Administration for media use. http://www.usfa.fema.gov/media/visuals/photos/electrical/index.shtm