Published on:

Overlooked Fire Hazards in the Home Can Be Deadly

Here are two stories from this past week that should provide lessons about paying close attention to anything around the home that can cause a fire, or which can make your escape from a fire more difficult
First: On April 20, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered the recall of more than 7 million candles because of concerns the plastic cup that holds the candle could melt or catch fire.

The “tea lights” were sold under the brand names of Chesapeake Bay Candle and Modern Light. They were sold at stores such as Home Goods, Target, Wegmans and others nationwide between July 2009 and February 2011.

The CPSC says the candles have a clear plastic cup that can melt or ignite, posing a fire and burn hazard. In fact, the importer of the candles, Pacific Trade International Inc., has received at least one report of the plastic cup melting while being used. No burn injuries or property damage have been reported so far. Consumers can call the company at 800-331-8339 for more information, or visit www.chesapeakebaycandle.com.

Or, if you have had a problem with these types of candles or any other product that has caused a burn injury, you can contact Mineola-NY based personal-injury lawyers Kramer & Pollack LLP to find out if the maker of the product is liable for causing that injury.

Remember: Along with cigarettes, candles are one of the most common causes of fires in the home. It is very easy for children and even adults to knock over a candle–and remember, even if it does not start a fire, the candle’s hot melted wax can land on someone’s skin (and stick to it!), causing a second-degree burn or even a third-degree burn.

The second story is a sad one. A few days ago, a father, mother, and oldest child of three were killed in a fast-moving fire in their living quarters in New York City. Notice that I did not say “apartment”–the reason for this is because this family was living in an apartment building that had been illegally converted into many very small, one- and two-room apartments. This is illegal because it creates overcrowding in the building and it also affects the fire safety of everyone living there.

In this case, a fire began in one unit and spread so quickly that the three victims could not get through the maze of doorways fast enough to survive. And according to the New York Daily News, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has now ordered top aides to crack down on such illegal apartments all around the city.

Conceding the city has not done enough, Bloomberg said he told the fire and buildings commissioners to “develop some new strategies for going after building owners that we suspect are most egregiously responsible for dangerous illegal conversions citywide.”

He said the spread of illegal apartments “has been a problem for many, many years,” and acknowledged the city’s efforts have fallen short. The concession came as Bloomberg confirmed that the burned-down apartment house at 2321 Prospect Ave. had been converted into many illegal apartments.

“The real disgrace here is building owners who put profits ahead of people’s lives … and allow extremely dangerous conditions to persist,” Bloomberg said.

The city received five complaints of illegal apartments with faulty wiring and blocked exits in the burned-down building. Building inspectors visited the site 10 times but, following department policy, took no further action after they failed to get in after two tries.

The FDNY vacated one floor of the building but never got back into the building to see if tenants had returned, Bloomberg acknowledged.

Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) joined the growing chorus of outrage by scheduling a June hearing on how the city deals with suspected illegal apartments. She told the Daily News that Bloomberg has opposed pending Council legislation that would give inspectors more flexibility. A mayoral spokesman said Bloomberg believes the proposed legislation “will not stand up in court,” but said he “will continue to work with the Council to find a solution.”

Bloomberg opposes a bill sponsored by City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens) that would let inspectors cite a property owner for an illegal apartment based on circumstantial evidence like a large number of mailboxes or doorbells. Bloomberg also is against a bill sponsored by Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) that would strengthen city inspectors’ ability to obtain court-issued access warrants based on affidavits from inspectors.

“This is an outrageous system that will lead to more deaths, but the administration is happy to let that exist,” Vallone said. “If they have better legislation, [let them] propose it.”

The Buildings Department gets about 20,000 complaints of illegal conversions a year, but is able to get in to inspect only about half of them, Bloomberg said.

The mayor said the city obtained twice as many warrants demanding property owners grant inspectors access in the past 28 months than it did in the six years before that.