WESTPORT — In the aftermath of two fires that claimed more than 30 lives in the last week, Westport’s new fire chief is sounding the alarm to ensure residents observe basic fire-safety precautions.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Fire Chief Michael Kronick reminded residents:
- Make sure smoke detectors are functioning properly and heed their alerts immediately.
- Do not use indoor space heaters for a prolonged period of time and position them away from flammable objects.
In the latest of the two urban blazes, at least 19 people perished and dozens more were injured Sunday at a high-rise apartment building in the Bronx, N.Y. Most of the deaths and injuries resulted from smoke inhalation caused by a space heater that ignited.
The space heater had apparently been running continuously for several days.
In Philadelphia, 12 people died — eight of them children — died Jan. 5 when fire tore through a row house converted into apartments.
A Philadelphia Fire Department official said at least four smoke detectors in the building failed to activate during the incident, according to Kronick.
He urged residents to routinely check that their smoke detectors are in proper working order.
“If you do have a smoke alarm with removable batteries, make sure you replace those batteries every six months,” he said. It is easiest to make that battery check in conjunction with changing clocks for Daylight Savings/Standard times, he advised.
And, the chief added, “Whenever you hear a fire alarm sound, head to the nearest exit and leave the building. If you see fire or smell smoke, call 911 immediately.”
Of the New York incident, Kronick said, space heaters are not intended to be a round-the-clock heating source. They can overheat, overload electrical circuits and ignite nearby flammable material, such as furniture and cushions.
“Whenever you use a portable heater, set it up a safe distance from anything that can burn, never use an extension cord and check the heater to make sure it’s operating correctly,” Kronick said.
He also emphasized the importance of the simple step of closing a door behind the site of fire or smoke, which can slow its spread. “This buys you more time to escape and protects others as well,” he said.
“The fires are terrible tragedies, for the victims, their families and the first responders,” Kronick said.
“Our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. We are reminded of the devastating impact of fire and the need to do more to prevent them in the future.”