Baltimore County Now
Chief Electrical Inspector
We often hear in the aftermath of a house fire that the cause of the fire was electrical. Since we all have electricity in our homes it’s easy to we feel vulnerable and helpless if you don’t understand how electrical fires get started.
Most electric fires are caused by loose connections, dryer lint, improper use of extension cords, old, non UL approved appliances, or worn out and broken switches and receptacles. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are more than 26,000 residential fires each year linked to electrical problems. In 2012, 8.3% of fatal residential fires were due to electrical malfunctions.
A little knowledge and some diligence on your part can prevent most fires in your home.
1) Empty the dryer lint tray after each load. Lint is extremely flammable and can be ignited by the heat from the dryer.
2) Never use extension cords as a permanent wiring method. The wires in a cord are significantly smaller than the wiring in your walls and, over time will heat up and catch fire. Also consider the use of UL rated cords and the addition of surge protected power strips.
3) Old appliances, switches, and receptacles should be replaced periodically.* They wear out and the connections inside separate slightly. When this happens, the electricity has to jump through the air to make the connection heating the air around the connection and starting a fire.
How often to change them depends on how often the device is used. Usually, light switches should be changed every 10 years at the latest. They crack internally and dry out. You can't see the problem so it's impossible to know that it needs to be changed. Use your best judgment with switches - the older switches were more solid and actually able to withstand much more that modern switches. Receptacles are a little bit easier. When the plugs no longer fit firmly in the socket it's time to replace the receptacle. When appliance cords become worn or the appliance begins behaving badly, it's time to replace or repair it.
4) If you have aluminum wiring in your home always have a licensed electrician make any repairs. Improper connections, or connection to devices that are not designed for aluminum wiring can start a fire.
5) If you observe your lights continually dim then grow bright, this could be a loose connection. Contact your utility company.
6) If you hear a sizzling noise coming from a switch or appliance; Find the circuit breaker for that circuit and turn it off. Contact a licensed electrician to check the circuit.
7) If you smell ozone, or an unusual electrical smell, this means that something electrical is heating up. Find the source and turn it off. Call a licensed electrician.
8) If you observe smoke or sparking contact the Fire Department.
It is always a good practice to make sure that the circuits in the breaker box are properly identified. This will help you find the source of a circuit quickly if you have an emergency.
Always check to make sure any appliance you purchase is approved by UL or some other recognized testing laboratory.
Never use unlicensed electrical contractors. Baltimore County licenses over 4400 electrical contractors who are qualified to serve you.
If you have any questions or concerns you may call 410 887-3960 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Public Safety Information Specialist
Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly. A byproduct of any combustible fuel, CO is tasteless, odorless and colorless. Death from CO poisoning can happen in a matter of hours.
The most recent national data shows a mortality rate of 430 deaths per year. At least 15,000 people are sent to the emergency room every year because of CO. It doesn’t have to happen.
CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). The higher the ppm level, the greater danger and the less time it will take to become seriously ill – or die.
The longer a person is exposed to CO, the greater the chance for serious illness or death.
At 200 ppm, a patient will experience mild headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness after two to three hours. As the ppm rise, the symptoms intensify.
At 800 ppm, a patient will experience convulsions after 45 minutes and may become unconscious and die within two to three hours.
Death by carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable.
What precautions should you take?
- Install CO detectors in your home. The CO alarm saves lives by letting you know you have a CO problem.
- Place one near sleeping areas and one in the living areas.
- Test CO alarms once a month.
- CO alarms have two sounds. One sound is the alarm and the other sound means the battery is low. Test them to know the difference.
- If the battery is low, replace it.
- If the alarm sounds, leave immediately and get outside to the fresh air. Call 911 from a fresh air location. DO NOT open the windows or doors other than your exit door. Fire fighters will need to take a reading of the CO levels to determine the source of the leak.
- CO detectors are sold in national chain stores and hardware stores.
- Keep generators at least 15 feet from doors and windows.
- Never use gas or charcoal grills inside the home.Don’t use gas ovens to heat the house.
- Check gas appliances regularly as they can be a source for CO leaks.
- Never leave your vehicle running in the garage even if the car tailpipe is facing out of the garage. Take the vehicle outside.
- In the event of snow, clear tailpipes on all vehicles.
- Clear snow from dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace vents. During a major snowstorm, you’ll probably need to do this a few times.
- Leave the fireplace vent open after putting out the fire. You may close the glass doors, but not the vent. Hot embers produce CO if air is cut off. If you must close the vent, place the embers and ashes in a metal container; place it outside, away from the house.
Stay safe – get a CO alarm!
Louise Rogers-Feher, Public Safety Office of Media and Communications
Candles and lights, synonymous with the holiday season, can pose a risk to safety. The Baltimore County Fire Department asks everyone to follow basic precautions as we move into the holiday season.
Candles pose one of the most serious home fire risks – especially during the holidays. During a five-year period, 2007-2011, a national average of 29 home candle fires was reported every day. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are over twice as many home fires caused by candles in December compared to the other months of the year. We are in the peak time of year for home candle fires as they are left unattended or placed too close to holiday decorations.
Candle placement is important. Never place a candle near curtains. A slight breeze coming from a window or door could easily ignite the curtain and start a fire. Set candles on stable surfaces. Aunt Mae’s antique table may look pretty but is it sturdy enough to take a bump without spilling over the candle?
Don’t leave candles lit when you’re not around. If you’re leaving the room, snuff or blow out the candles.
To get the most light from your candle, use a glass hurricane cover. They reflect the light giving a brighter glow. They are both pretty and safe.
Tea light candles should not be set out on their own. There are many safe and festive tea light holders that will fit any décor.
Never leave children or pets alone in a room with lit candles. Beyond the threat of fire, melted wax can cause severe burns.
The best way to avoid a problem is to invest in battery powered candles. They glow bright without risk of fire.
Bright lights and safety
Electric lights pose different problems. The NFPA states electrical problems were factors in one third of Christmas tree structure fires.
Always buy lights that are indoor and outdoor approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Throw away light sets with frayed wires. An exposed wire could cause a fire. You aren’t saving money if you wrap a light socket or frayed wire with electrical tape. And really, it looks bad.
When stringing outdoor lights, only use lights meant for the outdoors. Outdoor lights have plugs and sockets that are weatherproof. Rain, snow and wind can tear up decorations and pose an electrical hazard unless you use lights specifically designed for outdoor use.
The type of extension cord you use is important. Use a cord that is the right length for the job. Don’t connect one extension cord to another.
While you might want to hide the power or extension cords, don’t put them under rugs, carpets or furniture because this poses a fire hazard.
Common sense tells us not to run power cords or extension cords in high traffic areas. Someone could trip and pull the power plug out of the socket.
When using extension cords for outside lights and decorations, be sure that you’re using cords that are meant for outside.
Recycle your tree
Trees tell us when they’re done. Needles fall off. That’s your cue to get rid of the tree. The County will pick up trees at your house after Christmas and recycle them into mulch. It’s easy for you and great for the environment.
Enjoy the holidays.