Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Time for a Fire Safety Refresher

on December 14, 2010

I had an interesting experience on my way home from work on Friday. I called my husband from the train to see if he was home yet and if we had a plan for the evening. He answered somewhat out of breath and said, “there’s smoke pouring out from the utility closet. I just called 911!” Let me tell you, this is an exciting way to start a conversation! I quickly made sure he was alright and then told him to do what he needed to do and call me when he had a chance.

About 10-15 minutes later he called back to say that emergency workers were on the scene. One of the condos kitty corner to us had a fire and the firemen (and women!) were ripping down the walls and breaking through the ceiling to make sure it wasn’t spreading to the other units. All I have to say is, “thank God for firewalls!” Nevertheless, the walls are somewhat porous (as concrete usually is) and smoke poured through the crevices and openings where the pipes are into our unit.

By the time I got home, maybe 20 minutes later, there were about 15 emergency vehicles of various flavors on scene – fire engines, ambulances, support vehicles. It definitely is a site to pull up to. At least I was forewarned – I felt bad for all my poor neighbors coming home who had no idea what they were walking into. To say that it must have been a shock is a gross understatement.

I was able to do a walk-through and while it was still hazy, most of the smoke had dissipated. The smell was horrendous though. It wasn’t that nice, woodsy smell you get from a campfire. This was a heavy, acrid smell that hung thick in the air. We had the windows open and fans going but the smell was too thick to let up quickly. We didn’t have much desire to stay there so we ran out to get a bite to eat, hoping by the time we got back, things would have calmed down a bit. By the time we got back, all of the emergency vehicles had left. The only way you could tell something strange was going on was that everyone had their windows open in 40 degree weather. Our place was still too smoky to stay in so we went over to my in-laws to crash there for the night.

Over the rest of the weekend, after keeping the windows open and doing multiple Febrez pass-throughs, the smell started easing up a bit. Getting a Christmas tree helped too! Now we’re dealing with insurance companies. Fortunately our building is being very proactive, sending one of those disaster clean-up agencies to do an assessment. It looks like we’ll get our walls washed down and maybe the carpets cleaned. Of course, the area in our place most affected was the utility closet, bedroom closet and our bedroom, so it looks like all of our clothes will be taking a spin in the washer – just what I wanted to be doing right before Christmas when I have two family dinners to plan for. It’s a pain, but I’m completely aware that it could have been worse. Only the unit the fire was in suffered any kind of major damage, and the homeowner was only slightly injured. No one else was hurt. In this kind of communal living situation, a fire of that magnitude could have been devastating if it weren’t for the firewalls.

This brings me to the fire safety refresher mentioned in my title. My husband asked the property manager if he knew what had happened. Apparently, the woman who lives in that unit had a candle lit….in her closet…that apparently fell over. I’m aware there could be religious reasons for this. It was a Friday after sundown so maybe she is an Orthodox Jew and doesn’t use electricity during the Sabbath. But still, there are a number of issues with this scenario. Why would you use an open flame in a closet, where presumably, there is so much that can catch on fire? For a fire to reach that magnitude, I’m guessing it had to have been left unattended, which, for the aforementioned reason, is incredibly stupid. Candles are pretty and I’m sure many of us use them regularly in our homes. It’s easy to forget how dangerous they can be.

If nothing else, this situation has caused me to re-evaluate my own living situation. We store a lot in our utility closet and while most of it isn’t flammable, there are definitely some things in there that need to be stored more responsibly. It’s also time to go check the fire extinguisher and make sure it’s still in good working order and accessible should we need it. As you clean up your house and get it ready for the holiday season, I urge you to take a few minutes to check out your own situation. When was the last time you changed the batteries in your smoke detector? Is your carbon monoxide detector working? Are your furnace, radiator and baseboard heaters free and clear of boxes, clothes and debris that could catch on fire? Do you have a fire extinguisher? If so, is it working and accessible? For those of you with real Christmas trees, make sure you’re watering them morning and night so they stay well hydrated. Despite all the hubbub and craziness of the holiday season, I guarantee that you can take 5 minutes out of your busy schedule to make sure you and your family will be safe this season.

...can prevent HOUSE fires

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