May is Electrical Safety Month; Electrical Fires are Second Leading Cause of Home Fire Deaths

STOW, MA – Fire officials announced that May is Electrical Safety Month. This year, Electrical Safety Month comes at a time when most of us are at staying home, studying, working, and connecting with family and friends remotely. “We are using more electronic devices at once than normal. Practicing electrical safety is more important now than ever,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey.

Don’t Charge Your Cell Phone or Laptop in Bed
Many fires are caused by cell phones charging underneath pillows and laptops left running on top of the bed covers. These devices are always processing when running or charging. Blocking or covering them can prevent air from cooling the batteries and lead to a fire. Failures of the lithium ion batteries typically used in these devices are more likely to occur during recharging. Charge these devices on a hard surface. “This is an important electrical safety lesson adults should teach children and teens who are using electronics to do their schoolwork, play, and stay connected to friends,” said Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts President Dennis Condon.

Recently, a hoverboard that was charging malfunctioned and caused a serious fire in Andover.

Don’t Overload Circuits and Power Strips
One way to prevent electrical fires is to limit the number of devices plugged into any single outlet or circuit. Plugging too many things into a single outlet or circuit overloads them and starts fires.

Electrical Fires Caused 39 Deaths and Nearly $200 Million in Damages (2014-2018)
From 2014 – 2018, Massachusetts fire departments reported 2,794 home fires caused by electrical problems. These fires caused 39 civilian deaths, 92 civilian injuries, 355 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $198.3 million.

“Electrical fires are the second leading cause of home fire deaths in Massachusetts,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “The best ways to prevent electrical fires are to have a licensed electrician do all work, and have your electrical system reviewed every ten years so you or your tenants won’t be tempted to overload outlets.” He added, “We need to keep our electrical systems up to date with our ever-increasing electrical needs in this technological age.”

Know the Warning Signs
“Call your local fire department immediately if you have warning signs such as arcs, sparks, or short circuits,” advises Chief Dennis Condon. “Other warning signs include hearing a sizzling or buzzing sound or smelling a vague odor of something burning. Immediate attention to these signs can save lives,” he added, “Firefighters can use thermal imaging technology to see excessive heat inside the walls.”

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 outlets or unusually warm or faulty outlets or switches.

Give Electrical Systems a Tune-Up Every 10 Years
Extension cords are designed for temporary use, but many people leave them in place permanently and forget about them. Plugging many things into a single outlet or reliance on extension cords are signs it is time to have an electrician review your system. Fire officials recommend having a licensed electrician review a home’s electrical system every ten years. Small upgrades and simple safety checks such as making sure outdoor grounds and connections are secure can prevent larger problems without breaking the bank.

Avoid Using Extension Cords
Another frequent cause of fires is using extension cords. Avoid using them if possible, but remember they are for temporary use only and not designed to substitute for the wall outlet. Plug all heat-producing appliances like space heaters, irons, and toasters, directly into the wall outlet; otherwise, the safety mechanism of circuit breakers and fuses is by-passed. Do not link extension cords together; each connection is another possible failure point.

Keep Furniture from Pinching Cords
Heavy furniture can easily pinch an electrical cord and over time that can lead to a fire. Do not run cords underneath rugs; it is both a trip and a fire hazard. Unplug appliances by grasping the plug; do not pull by the cord.

For more information on electrical fire safety in English and Spanish go to https://www.mass.gov/service-details/electrical-fire-safety .