2012 had one of the lowest number of fire-related fatalities in Massachusetts’ history. But in just the first week of 2013, three house fires killed a total of four people. As temperatures drop, the frequency of house fires tends to rise. State Fire Marshall Stephen Coan says many can be traced to over-using certain heating systems. He says as heating oil has gotten more expensive, he’s seen fires in homes where people have switched to wood or pellet burning stoves — and others where families opt for space heaters.
“And these are very legitimate alternative heating sources. As long as they are used within the parameters that it be temporary and not to take the place of the primary heating source within the home. And good fire prevention practices are used around the use of these devices.”
Coan says one of these measures is keeping combustible materials like newspaper and curtains away from flames and heat. But he says maintaining working smoke alarms is the best way to ensure early escape in the event of a fire. Coan adds detectors are more critical to saving lives now than they were in the past. That’s because a lot of households are furnished with chairs, tables and fabrics assembled from man-made materials.
“Plastics and synthetics give out toxic gases and also contribute to fires being hotter and a more rapid spread of fire. So the actual time we have to escape a fire is much less.”
Even so, Coan says, Massachusetts’ fire fatality rate is on the decline. He says that’s because of efforts like in-school fire education programs and advancements in life-support technology.