Fatal Bronx apartment fire puts space heater safety measures in perspective

State News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) —An apartment fire in the Bronx left 17 people dead over the weekend, and investigators are certain the fire began with a portable electric space heater. A device that is common in most households, especially during cold winter months.

Now, the fatal fire has many communities talking about how to stay safe while using these devices. However, local housing advocates are saying these devices wouldn’t be necessary in the first place if landlords properly heated houses as they are required to do per New York State law.

Local renter Quiana Dunaway was without heat all last year. To keep her family warm, she used space heaters and said she wonders what would have happened if the heater caused a fire to break out, just like it did in the Bronx.

“What if something like that happened? And what if I couldn’t get into my kids in time to get them out of the house?” Dunaway said, “What if my kids get sick? It’s not the fact that you’re going outside and you’re in the cold. You could get sick. I’m in a home. I’m in a home that I’m paying to be in to keep my children warm. And they’re not even warm.”

New York State requires landlords to provide heat at 68 degrees between the months of October and May.

“When a tenant is complaining that they don’t have adequate heat, their landlord is actually breaking the law,” said Ritti Singh with Rochester’s City-Wide Tenant Union, “We hear this multiple times a week. I believe it’s one of the biggest complaints we have in Rochester. We are deeply afraid that if landlords are not held accountable in Rochester, another fire like this could occur here.”

If you find yourself in a position where you are using space heaters because your rented home is without heat, Singh said you can call code enforcement at 311 for assistance.              

For those who do plan on using space heaters in their homes, Fire Chief Mike Terzo said there are several precautions you need to follow in order to prevent a tragedy from occurring.

“Children should not pass in fires. Just because we had a malfunction and poor use of a space heater. Hopefully, we could reach the community out there and get people more educated about space heaters, get them more educated about proper use and the safe use associated with it to where we don’t have to see that around here. It’s very devastating to see children pass away in a fire,” Terzo said.

Chief Terzo outlines some of the precautions you can take to stay safe and warm while using space heaters.

                -Plug your space heater directly into a wall with a circuit, not a power strip.

                -Make sure you purchase a space heater that has tip-over switches. That way if it is accidentally tipped over, it will automatically shut off.

                -Make sure the cord isn’t underneath any carpets or rugs. If it is, it could create friction, heat up, and cause a fire.

                -Before you bring out the heater every season, make sure to get it looked at by a certified inspector annually.

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