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Deadly New York fire prompts renewed warnings about space heaters

COLUMBIA, Mo (KMIZ)

As the winter weather gets colder, some people are using space heaters to ensure they can warm their homes.   Firefighters want individuals to remember if used it improperly, a space heater can become a common fire hazard.  

A deadly fire in a New York high-rise apartment building over the weekend started with a space heater, according to fire officials, highlighting the need for caution when using the devices.

The fire killed 19 people including nine children and was New York City's deadliest blaze in three decades.

ABC News reported that firefighters found victims on every floor, many in cardiac and respiratory arrest. ABC News says some residents said they initially ignored wailing smoke alarms because false alarms were so common in the 120-unit building, built in the early 1970s as affordable housing.

A malfunctioning space heater in a bedroom sparked the blaze, New York's fire commissioner said.

Space heaters are common in homes and offices around the country. However, fire experts say they should be used carefully.

Fire officials told ABC 17 News that people should inspect the location where they want to place the heater. Make sure there is nothing close by that can cause a fire and be sure to plug it directly into a wall outlet.

Clayton Farr Jr. is the is the assistant fire chief for the Columbia Fire Department. He says if you buy a space heater, try to get one with a trip switch, so it can auto shut off if it falls over.

"We had an elderly gentleman who had a space heater in his residence, he fell near the space heater, it did not have a trip switch, so he was unable to move until a neighbor was able to hear his cries and call for help and so he received third-degree burns. Though a fairly small area, he received third-degree burns due to that," said Farr Jr.

According to Energy.gov, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. In addition, an estimated 6,000 people receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with touching the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.

Jason turner, Division Chief for the Jefferson City Fire Department says that space heaters can come in all makes and models, with some even using kerosene. He said its important to be equipped with the proper alarms if you plan to use one.

"You want to make sure if you're using these types of devices, that you also have two other devices inside your home and that's a working smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector," said Turner.

Assistant Chief Farr Jr says Columbia Fire Department responds to roughly 5 to 10 emergency incidents a year involving a space heater. The latest data from Statista.com reported that in 2018 U.S. retail sales of heaters amounted to approximately $327.3 million.

The U.S Consumer Product Safety says to keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything flammable. The Kansas City Fire Department says when you purchase a space heater, look for models that automatically shut off when they hit the floor. KCFD also says to turn off your space heater before going to bed and only use space heaters on a hard, level, non-flammable surface, not rugs or carpets.

Space heaters can be purchased at your local retail stores. Fire officials say once you get your purchase make sure to read the directions so you can use your space heater properly. 

Joushua Blount

Joushua Blount hails from Cleveland, Ohio and has a bachelor’s degree in media communications from the University of Toledo. He also has a master’s degree from the University Of Alabama. Roll Tide!

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1 Comment

  1. Listening to a big city fire department respond to a high-rise fire was very impressive. Here is just the beginning from the FDNY radio scanner archive:

    Dispatcher to the first fire truck dispatched: “Ladder 56, respond ..333 East 181 Street …for a fire in the building.”

    Ladder 56: “10-4. We are going to be delayed. We are coming from the other side of our response area.”

    Dispatcher sends another fire truck, Ladder 33: “33, you might get in first. (Ladder) 56 is going to be delayed.”

    Ladder 33 arrives: “Transmit the 10-77. We got smoke from the rear of the building.”

    Code 10-77 means: High-rise multiple dwelling fire. A notification signal transmitted when, in the judgment of the Incident Commander, conditions indicate a fire in a High-Rise Multiple Dwelling requires a total response of the following units:
    4 Engine companies
    4 Ladder companies
    3 Battalion Chiefs
    1 Deputy Chief
    1 Rescue company
    1 Squad company
    1 High Rise Nozzle Engine Company IF none of the initial 4 Engine companies have a HRN
    1 FAST Unit
    1 CFR-D Engine company
    Field Communications Unit
    Field Comm Battalion
    Safety Operating Battalion
    Rescue Operations Battalion
    1 Safety Officer
    1 Ventilation Support Unit

    Engine 42 to Dispatch: “(Engine) 42, Dispatch, fire just broke out. Heads up, we got heavy fire blowing out the rear of the apartment.”

    Dispatcher: “Bronx to 19 Battalion. Be advised you got a calling parting in apartment [Deleted for privacy] with a new born sheltering in place.”

    There were four other alarms after this. The response seemed extremely well organized with very professional dispatchers and fire fighters.

    The fire was on the third floor. In less than 25 minutes of the initial 911 call, there were reports of people trapped due to smoke on the 12th, 15th, and 19th floors.

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