By Thomas Usztoke, Vice President of Douglas Elliman Property Management.
Each year, throughout New York City, property managers distribute fire safety information to their apartment residents in compliance with Local Law 10 of 1999. The mailing contains building specific details and basic instructions on fire emergencies in your building. While it is the job of New York City’s Bravest to “put the blue stuff on the red stuff,” there are a number of pointers New York apartment dwellers should commit to memory.
The breadth of New York City’s properties involves multiple types of construction. A key distinguisher is whether the building materials are combustible or non-combustible. The difference is critically important in determining if residents should evacuate immediately or remain in their apartments while firefighters do their job. In most cases, residents are advised to shelter in place in non-combustible buildings, as long as they are out of imminent harm, but at all times the instructions of the FDNY are to be followed.
Common Causes of Fire
The three most common causes of fire are oil or grease fires that start in the kitchen, overloaded electrical circuitry, and the open flame of a candle or the embers of a cigarette. Most of these fire dangers are easily avoidable if certain precautions are implemented, as outlined below.
Kitchen Fires: Kitchen fires, most typically caused by oil or grease in or on top of the oven, usually start when someone wanders off or gets distracted while cooking. Forgetting that you’ve got something on the stovetop or in the oven is a sure way to ruin more than just dinner. Every kitchen should have a portable fire extinguisher handy. All members of the household should be well versed in pulling it off its bracket, aiming at the fire and pulling the trigger. Become familiar enough with its operation that its use is an instinctual response. Doing so can save you more than just your kitchen. And don’t underestimate the value of setting a kitchen timer when cooking.
Overloaded Electrical Circuitry: If you are repeatedly tripping a circuit breaker, it’s overloaded. Heaters, clothes dryers and other appliances all draw a lot of electricity and are liable to overload a system if piled on with the use of multiple extension cords or power strips. No electrical power supply cord or wall outlet should be HOT to the touch. If you have any doubts about the safety of your electrical outlets or wiring, contact your manager, super or handyman.
Open Flames and Cigarettes: The open flame of a candle or the smoking ember of a cigar or cigarette are common causes of house fires. Not infrequently, residents fall asleep while smoking, allowing embers to drop to the carpet or the bed, and ignite. A forgotten candle that shrinks down to its base can superheat the surface it rests on, starting a smoldering fire that can lead to a blaze. A burning ember in a mattress can remain incubating for hours before igniting into a king size room-filling inferno. Be extremely vigilant with any open flame, whether it be the stove, candle, cigarette or cigar.
Protect Yourself, Your Home, Your Family
The two easiest forms of fire prevention are knowledge and a working set of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, both of which are regularly tested to ensure they are in working order. Check detectors monthly and replace their batteries at least twice a year. Many people routinely replace their detector batteries when changing to and from Daylight Savings Time, an easy semi-annual date to remember.
Should a fire occur in your apartment, call 911, call the lobby staff if available, leave the apartment immediately, and close (do not lock) all doors while exiting. New York City is fortunate to have quick Fire Department response times, which can often contain the fire to a room, or at least the apartment of its occurrence, limiting the amount of damage to the building as a whole. The FDNY’s water source is street-side hydrants and/or in buildings over six stories, the red fire standpipe lines that you see in the public stairwells. NEVER obstruct the stairs or the standpipe system by using the stairwells as a storage area. It is a serious building code violation and a dangerous obstruction to you and your neighbors as well as responding firefighters. Forget about using the elevators unless you have been directed to do so by the FDNY. Unfortunately, elevators can end up traveling to the floor where the fire is located.
When your property manager sends out the fire safety materials, take the time to read and understand them, and be sure to create a safety plan for you and your family. It can be as simple as setting a specific meeting place outside in the event of an emergency, and should also include learning to find and use the fire extinguisher if necessary and what to do in the event of a fire. For any type of NYC emergency, a web search to “Ready New York” provides an abundance of training and practice materials. Be a helping hand to your family and others by being aware of these basics.