As we mark the beginning of National Burn Awareness Week, it's a good time to take a look at all of the potential firestarters in your apartment. Some are obvious, but there are others that might surprise you.
The fact that National Burn Awareness Week is in the middle of winter is no coincidence: Winter is high time for fires to break out in homes. But regardless of season, people often don't think of all of the things in their home that could start a fire. This may be why, on average, seven Americans die each day due to home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The risk of fire is even more severe for those who live in buildings where the heat, electricity, and maintenance are managed by potentially shifty and negligent landlords, such as low-income or assisted housing complexes. Sadly, there were 95,000 fires that broke out in apartment buildings in 2015, resulting in 3,025 burn injuries and 405 deaths, according to NFPA.
Even a single death due to a preventable home fire is one death too many. Fortunately, every tenant has rights and the power to take fire safety into their own hands. That’s why, in recognition of National Burn Awareness Week, we’re sharing simple fire and burn prevention tips for the whole family.
Take time this week to look out for these hazards and bring them to your landlord’s attention, if necessary.
1. Cooking and Kitchen Equipment
The kitchen is the most fire-prone room of your home, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Cooking is the biggest firestarter of all, which might surprise those who use their stove or oven frequently. Cooking equipment caused 46 percent of home fires and 19 percent of home deaths, plus almost half of home injuries, the organization says.
The biggest offenders are ranges or stovetops, and in circumstances where food is left unattended or the food is being fried. In these circumstances, things like tea towels and oven mitts might catch fire, or grease could splatter and ignite a fire in the kitchen. Practicing proper cooking habits is key to a safe kitchen.
But sometimes equipment can be defective. Appliances, stoves, and other kitchen products used for cooking or cleaning might be provided by your landlord, and could be poorly maintained or not as good as the expected standard.
All tenants have the right to decent, safe, and sanitary housing under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including those who live in Section 8 housing. This includes the kitchen.
As an aside: Your oven, while warm, is no substitute for proper heating. It might seem safe, but it's a major fire hazard, too, according to authorities.
2. Light Bulbs
A simple light bulb can be a major firestarter if it is the wrong size and wattage for the fixture you’re installing it in. The extra wattage could cause the bulb to overheat and explode, potentially leading to a serious fire.
So what do you do if your light bulb burns out? When in doubt, call your landlord. They can make sure you pick out the correct size and watt light bulb if one of your lights burns out, though you may be responsible as a tenant for paying for the light bulb.
However, in the case of common areas and hallways, it is generally your landlord’s responsibility to purchase, replace, and maintain these lightbulbs. Remember, all tenants have the right to timely repairs and quality maintenance, even Section 8 tenants
Many people don’t think about it, but you might be tucking in one of the most dangerous firestarters in your home every night. Children are frequently the source of fires in the home, particularly young children, according to the NFPA.
Fire is a natural draw to anyone, but particularly to children, who are unfamiliar with it and interested in some of its aspects. They may have questions, such as how hot fire is, how it is started by matches or lighters, and how food is cooked using fire.
Teaching children about fires and what starts fires — notably clothing, bedding, and their toys — can be useful in preventing your child starting a fire. Even more useful is keeping tools like matches and lighters out of their reach, and making sure they’re supervised around fires you’re using.
4. Clothes Dryer
Having a washer and dryer unit in your apartment is a great convenience, but as a tenant you’re on the hook for some of your dryer’s basic maintenance. Be sure to remove all built-up lint in your dryer before and after you use your dryer, as lint is a common cause of home fires.
Your landlord will also need to check the dryer hose in the back of your dryer periodically, as a clogged hose can also lead to a dangerous fire in your apartment. In fact, 2,900 dryer fires are reported each year and these fires cause $35 million in property loss annually, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
5. Outdated Wiring
Old wiring may be out of sight behind your walls, but it shouldn’t be out of mind. Outdated electrical systems are a major hazard as they cannot keep up with modern, power-hungry appliances and can become overloaded by too much electricity. This can lead to a fire.
A telltale sign of old wiring is repeatedly blown fuses. If you notice that your circuit breaker is tripping more often than it should be, it’s time to call your landlord and have an electrician survey the wiring in your apartment building. After all, electrical fires account for more than 50,000 home fires each year, according to the NFPA.
What If I’m the Victim of a Burn Injury?
The best way to protect yourself from a burn injury is by preventing home fires in the first place. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, especially if you live in an apartment building managed by a negligent landlord.
If you or someone you love is the victim of a burn injury as a result of a property owner who failed to do maintenance in your apartment, our attorneys want to hear from you. Even if you believe the fire was your fault, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and more.