New Canaan Fire Marshal on Home Heating Equipment Safety


There have been two deadly fires in the northeast in the past month. The first being a Philadelphia row house fire in which 12 people were killed. The fire was most likely started when a 5-year-old boy ignited a Christmas tree with a lighter. 

Fire Marshal Paul Payne. Credit: Michael Dinan

The second fire, a week ago Sunday in the Bronx, N.Y., in which 17 people were killed, was caused by a space heater that was either faulty or improperly used. The death and injuries in this fire were the result of smoke inhalation. The reason for the smoke spread was that doors were left open or did not close properly. Closed doors play an important role in saving lives and minimizing property damage by providing a compartment for the smoke, flames and dangerous heat to stay in.

Additionally, doors leading to common areas, hallways, and garages should be self-closing and latching. They also should never be propped open and should remain closed at all times so that smoke, fire and heat cannot migrate through the building.

Heating equipment is a leading cause of fires in U.S. homes. These homes include one- and two-family homes and apartments including townhouses and other multi-family dwellings according to NFPA research. Space heaters were most often responsible for home heating equipment fires from 2014-2018, accounting for more than two in five fires as well as the vast majority of deaths and injuries. Approximately two in five home heating equipment fires involved equipment that relied upon a solid fuel such as a wood burning or pellet stove or wood burning fireplace.

Space Heater Safety (USA Today)

  • Know how your space heater works; some of the primary types of space heaters include mica heaters, ceramic fan-forced heaters and oil filled convection heaters.
  • Always supervise your space heater. Never use it when you sleep or keep it on when you leave the room.
  • Give your space heater space and stability. Leave at least a 3 foot gap between your heater and anything that can burn. Make sure your space heater is secured on a flat, solid ground so that it will not tip over.
  • Keep hot to touch heaters away from people and pets.
  • Make sure there is an automatic shut-off function. With this feature, space heaters can shut off automatically
    if any imminent danger is detected.
  • Never plug a space heater into a power strip, always plug it directly into a wall outlet.
  • Test your smoke detectors regularly, once a month is recommended. 

Wood Stove Safety

  • Have a qualified professional install the stove, chimney and connectors.
  • Place your wood stove on a floor pad at least 3’ away from anything combustible.
  • Before the heating season begins, have your chimney, flue vents and stove cleaned by a certified
    chimney sweep.
  • Remove ashes regularly and dispose of them safely. Let ashes cool in stove before placing them in a covered metal container. Ashes can stay hot or warm for an extended period of time. Make sure they are cold before discarding them.
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
  • Never use gasoline, charcoal starter fluid or other flammable liquids to start your fire.
  • Store wood safely in a dry place protected from the elements.
  • Ensure your home is equipped with working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

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