After fatal Kensington space heater fire, fire chief urges caution

The Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment has a fire safety mo­bile app and safety guidelines to fol­low to avoid space heat­er fires, a com­mon risk dur­ing the cold winter months in the River Wards.

The Fire De­part­ment is ur­ging all of Phil­adelphia to stay safe after a fire in Kens­ing­ton claimed the lives of two men last week.

The two men who died in a first-floor fire fell vic­tim to a space heat­er plugged in­to an il­leg­al elec­tric­al con­nec­tion.

“This is not un­com­mon, for a space heat­er to cause a fire in the winter months,” said Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment Ex­ec­ut­ive Chief Richard Dav­is­on. “We do know that in the winter, that’s when the space heat­ers come out.”

On Monday, Nov. 26, a fire broke out at 9:51 a.m. in the first-floor liv­ing room area of a brick home at 3462 Joyce St., ac­cord­ing to the fire de­part­ment.

The fire was found to be caused by an il­leg­al elec­tric­al hook-up, Chief Dav­is­on said.

“The elec­tri­city they were re­ceiv­ing was il­leg­al. I’m not sure if it was faulty, but that was the gen­er­al cause of the fire,” Dav­is­on said.

The fire was un­der con­trol by 10:16 a.m., but two men died as a res­ult. There were no smoke de­tect­ors in the home.

As cold weath­er sets in across the River Wards, the Fire De­part­ment is ur­ging res­id­ents to ex­er­cise safety and cau­tion with any use of space heat­ers and oth­er po­ten­tial fire haz­ards.

“Once you start im­ple­ment­ing or us­ing space heat­ers in your home, it be­comes a haz­ard,”  Dav­is­on said.

Space heat­ers are ex­tremely high-power devices. If elec­tric­al wires in your home are frayed or aged, run­ning power to a space heat­er may be enough to cause a fire.

Also, if a space heat­er is plugged in with too many oth­er devices, a home’s fuse box can be­come over­loaded.

However, Chief Dav­is­on said, space heat­ers can be used with an ex­ten­sion cord, only as long as the ex­ten­sion cord is of the same thick­ness — gauge — as that of the space heat­er’s power cord, or big­ger.

“You don’t want to over­load ex­ten­sion cords. You can use ex­ten­sion cords as long as you use the prop­er gauge and use it prop­erly,” Dav­is­on said.

The Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment also of­fers free smoke de­tect­ors. To get a free smoke de­tect­or, call 311. The fire de­part­ment will ar­range to have smoke de­tect­ors in­stalled in your home free of charge.

The Fire De­part­ment has provided a sev­er­al safety guidelines for res­id­ents.

“They should en­sure that they have work­ing smoke alarms in every floor and every room,” the chief said. “Prac­tice a home es­cape plan.”

The Fire De­part­ment also has cre­ated a fire safety app for mo­bile devices, which can be down­loaded at www.freedom­from­­app.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Con­sumer Product Safety Com­mis­sion, fol­low these steps to op­er­ate a space heat­er safely:

•Use a space heat­er that has been tested to the latest safety stand­ards and has been cer­ti­fied by a na­tion­ally re­cog­nized test­ing labor­at­ory. These heat­ers have the most up-to-date safety fea­tures. Older space heat­ers may not meet new­er safety stand­ards. Al­ways fol­low the man­u­fac­turer’s dir­ec­tions for prop­er use.

•Place the heat­er on a level, hard non­flam­mable sur­face such as a ceram­ic tile floor.

•Keep the heat­er at least three feet away from bed­ding, drapes, fur­niture and oth­er flam­mable ma­ter­i­als.

•Keep chil­dren and pets away from space heat­ers.

•Turn the heat­er off if you leave the area.

•Nev­er leave a space heat­er on when you go to sleep.

•Don’t place a space heat­er close to any sleep­ing per­son.

•Nev­er use gas­ol­ine in a ker­osene space heat­er, as even small amounts of gas­ol­ine mixed with ker­osene can in­crease the risk of fire.

•Don’t use port­able pro­pane space heat­ers in­doors or in any con­fined space un­less they are spe­cific­ally de­signed for in­door use.

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it freedom­from­, or call 311.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­

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