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Lessons in Home Fires: Don’t Get Burned by Careless Neighbors

Sometimes, it does not matter how much precaution you take in keeping your home safe from a fire. Here’s a situation that recently affected my own family:

We have small fire extinguishers in the corner of each bedroom, plus one in the hallway closet that’s between the kitchen and the front door. Each fire extinguisher is rated ABC (so it’s effective on just about every type of house fire–electrical, cooking, etc.). Each one cost us about $40, and is useful for about three years. We know ours are still good because the gauge on top of each extinguisher shows us how much firefighting chemical is left in the extinguisher. Once the gauge points to the red zone, it’s time to discard or refill the extinguisher. And even though the instructions for use are printed on each extinguisher, we’ve all learned how to use it so no time is wasted during an emergency.

So we thought we were fully prepared to handle any fire situations involving the home. Problem is, we live in an apartment building, and one of our neighbors is not as careful about fire safety as we are–she’s an elderly woman who likes to smoke. One night, we heard fire trucks outside our building, and when I opened our apartment door to step into the hallway, I could see and smell acrid smoke coming from under the door of our neighbor’s unit.

The firefighters raced up the one flight of stairs and banged on our neighbor’s door until she reluctantly opened it. Wielding heavy-duty foam extinguishers, they pushed past her and coated the entire apartment to ensure that whatever was on fire could not ignite anything else. It turns out that the woman’s mattress had caught fire from a cigarette–and the bottom of her nightgown was burned and still smoking as the firefighters finished their job!

The woman was trying to smother the mattress fire when firefighters arrived, and was too embarrassed to open her door and let them in. But if they had not gotten into that apartment in time, our adjacent apartment likely would have caught fire too. Our small extinguishers probably would have bought us enough time to get to an exit without receiving serious, third-degree burns or significant smoke inhalation, but we probably would have lost our home.

The moral of this story: Fire safety does not end beyond your front door. Keep aware of hazardous situations surrounding your home too. Careless neighbors can cause disaster for themselves, and for you. And if you ever have a situation near your home you think might be a fire hazard, call us at (212) ANSWERS and we will gladly answer your questions.