As summer temperatures heat up in the coming weeks, air conditioners across the five boroughs will crank on. This high-wattage invention is a cool savior in the sweltering city, but it can also be a dangerous fire hazard if not properly operated, warns the FDNY. When plugged into an outlet with too many lights or other appliances, air conditioners can overload and overheat the circuit, melting and igniting the wire insulation and resulting in an electrical fire. To prevent this, avoid plugging an air conditioner into the same outlet or circuit as other high-wattage appliances, such as refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, and irons. Plus, never use an extension cord with an air conditioner, which also can cause home fires by overloading the outlet.
In addition to operating your air conditioner safely, summer is the perfect time to practice your fire escape plan. Make sure your family is prepared in the event of a home fire any time of year by following this advice from the FDNY.
1. Make a fire escape plan. Use a graph (download a FDNY brochure with a blank graph here) to draw a floor plan of your home or apartment, showing all floors, all windows and doors, and the stairways with the number of stairs. Label each sleeping area.
2. Know your exits. In an apartment building, the primary or first exit is your apartment door that leads to a public stairway or hallway that leads to the street. The secondary exit is either an additional enclosed stairway accessible from the public hallway, an enclosed fire tower (stairway accessible from the public hallway), or an outside fire escape accessible from within your apartment through a window or door. An elevator is never an acceptable means of exit during a fire.
If bedrooms don’t have fire escapes outside their windows, “you can purchase a ladder for other windows but they are only long enough for windows on the third floor or lower,” says FDNY fire safety education unit director Lt. Anthony Mancuso. “They should be Underwriters Lab (UL) approved—this is proof that they have been tested.”
On your floor plan graph, show the two ways out of each room by using arrows.
2. Discuss escape routes and procedures with everyone in your home. Teach everyone how to unlock and open the doors, windows, and window gates and have them practice doing so. “If a child cannot open the window then they should not be alone in the home,” Mancuso says. “If you are elderly and unable to open the window, you should remain at the window and call 911.” The same advice applies to children if the adult at home is incapacitated by the fire; kids should also know their address and apartment number so they can tell the 911 operator where firefighters can find them.
Agree on a meeting place outside your home so you will know everyone is out safe.
3. Have a fire drill. Since most home fires occur in the early morning hours, have your family members pretend they are sleeping. Make the house dark as if it is smoke-filled. Begin the fire drill with the sounding of your smoke alarm, making sure everyone can clearly hear and recognize the sound.
Include in your drill:
-The responsibility of waking a child or older adult
-Escaping through smoke by crawling low on hands and knees
-Closing doors behind you as exit rooms
-Reminding family members not to stop to get dressed or collect possessions
Follow your planned escape all the way through to the meeting place. Kids should not practice walking down the fire escape, however, says Mancuso. “Have the children practice descending a ladder facing the steps at a park, playground, or gym,” he says. “Remember, only use the fire escape if the door to your apartment is hot by touching it with the back of your hand or if smoke is coming under the door.”
4. Make sure your home is set up safely. Smoke detectors should be installed on the ceiling within 15 feet of all sleeping areas, preferably in the center of the room, but not less than four inches from a wall. Test the alarm once a month and replace batteries twice a year when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.
If your fire escape window has security bars or a gate make sure it is FDNY approved for fire escape windows; it must open without the use of a key, a tool, or special effort to open. Child safety window guards should not be installed on fire escape windows.
Use only thumb-turn type door locks on the interior side of exit doors; locks that require a key to open from the inside are illegal and unsafe. Keep stairways and exits clear of clutter and storage, and don’t store anything on building fire escapes.
Get more information from the FDNY on summer fire safety, residential apartment building fire safety, smoke & carbon monoxide alarms, and keeping children fire safe. Additional FDNY fire safety publications, available in multiple languages, can be found here.