Preventing Disaster: Essential Tips to Avoid Fires Caused by Faulty Equipment

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New York City apartment fires are way too common, causing severe injuries and fatalities. From May 2020 to May 2021, according to the most recent data from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), there were 24,429 fires. These fires are often caused by faulty equipment and lack of building maintenance.

Common Causes of Fire from Faulty Equipment

Electrical fires are among the most dangerous and destructive causes of fire. They occur suddenly and spread quickly throughout an apartment unit and the entire building. Faulty wiring,  verloading
outlets and circuits, overheated devices (space heaters, hair dryers, irons), the use of too many extension cords, and loose-fitting plugs can cause a deadly fire.

Another common cause of electrical fires is failure to clean out dryer lint, which can over time create a serious fire hazard.

If you notice any of the following, contact your super or landlord to rectify the issue immediately:

  • Frequent power outages or brownouts
  • Flickering or dimming lights
  • Sparks or arcs of electricity when plugging in appliances or outlets
  • Burning or rubbery smells near electrical outlets or wires
  • Discolored or charred outlet covers or receptacles

If you’re using multiple extension cords, don’t overload them by plugging in too many devices. Also, inspect them regularly for signs of wear and tear, such as cracks in the insulation.

If the dryer lint trap in the building is not cleaned out regularly, inform the super or landlord of the potential fire risk.

Lack of Regular Heating Maintenance by the Apartment Manager, Landlord

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network in 2023 found that minority neighborhoods in New York City were more likely to experience structural fires and heating complaints. The researchers examined city data on more than 4,000 fire incident dispatches and 38,000 heat and hot water complaints made to the city by tenants. They wanted to explore whether there is “a more systemic relationship between heating complaints, unsafe heating and fires.”

They found that neighborhoods with more fires also had more heating complaints. In addition to finding a correlation between heating complaints and fires, the study found that more fires occurred in districts with larger numbers of Black and Latino residents.

For example, in 2022, 17 people were killed in a fire in a New York City apartment in the Bronx after a space heater ignited and bellowed throughout the building. All of the victims died of smoke inhalation. The apartment building’s heat was nonoperational, forcing tenants to use space heaters. Additionally, the owners failed to ensure that the smoke detectors in each unit were functioning and that escape routes were available.

If you are using space heaters, be sure to take these measures to prevent a fire disaster:

  • Inspect the heater before using it to ensure there are no cracks, broken plugs, or loose connections.
  • Make sure the heater is at least three feet from anything that can burn. Most home heating fatalities occur because a space heater is too close to furniture, clothing, mattresses, or bedding.
  • Always plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Don’t use extension cords or power strips. Don’t run the cord under a rug or carpet.
  • Avoid putting space heaters in hallways or other places kids or pets might pass by. Don’t allow children to move a heater or adjust the controls.
  • Never use or store flammable liquids in the same room as a space heater. Because they’re electric, don’t get near a heater when you’re wet.
  • Turn the space heater off before you leave the room or go to bed.

In addition, if the smoke alarm in your apartment is nonoperational, contact the super or landlord to replace it. If it is not replaced, file a complaint with the city.

Have a Plan of Action in Place in the Event of a Fire

It’s also important to have a fire escape plan in place so that you and your family know what to do and how get out of the building safely and quickly. Have a designated meeting place outside so everyone can account for each other after evacuating the building. Do not attempt to put out the fire yourself; instead, call 911 and let the professionals handle it.

Department of Buildings, Property Owners Must Ensure Proper Fire Escape Plans

In the above-mentioned fire in a high-rise building in the Bronx that killed 17 people, eight of whom were children, there were numerous safety failures. The spring-loaded hinges that were supposed to close the door automatically did not function. A second door left open in a higher-up stairwell served as a flue, sucking smoke upward and through the structure. The city’s Department of Buildings should have ensured that the self-closing doors in buildings worked. In addition, the property owners failed to ensure the fire escapes were in working order. There was no intercom system to alert the tenants or sprinkler system to stem the fire. All these safety measures are the responsibility of the property owner and the city to prevent and mitigate fire disasters.

Contact Ronemus & Vilensky, LLP

If you or a loved one was injured in a residential fire caused by the negligence or neglect of property owners and/or landlords, contact the personal injury attorneys of Ronemus & Vilensky, LLP, in New York City. We are ready to help with a free consultation.

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