It seems like lately I have read far too many news stories about families losing loved ones because of fires in their homes and apartments. Having worked briefly for the FDNY while completing a fellowship, I have a special place in my heart for the bravery of firefighters across this city but also for their educational efforts in communities, schools and businesses throughout the city. I fondly remember the PSAs from Smokey Bear when I was a child, reminding me that only I could prevent forest fires! As we brace ourselves for what will likely be a few miscellaneous days of severe cold weather in the upcoming weeks, I thought I would remind us of our ability to prevent fires and plan for fire safety in our households.
First things first, if you don’t have fire insurance, get it! Many insurance policies protect the landlord from fires, but if you do not have a separate renters’ policy that covers fire damage, you may find yourself literally out in the cold. A few years ago a dear friend came home from work to find her apartment building burnt to the ground. She did not have fire insurance and had to rely on the kindness of loved ones and strangers for months until she slowly rebuilt her life.
Second, be sure you have active, working smoke detectors that you check regularly and that are strategically placed throughout your home. Replace the batteries when needed. Too often when that annoying chirping alerts me that the battery is dying, I take the battery out and wait way too long to replace it. A $5 battery can be the difference between saving your life (and belongings) or sleeping through a horrible and possibly life-threatening or life-ending incident.
Also, make sure you have a working fire extinguisher. And as equally important, make sure you read the directions when you purchase it so you know how to actually use it. I used an extinguisher one time and sprayed it like a hose (not the proper thing to do). Fire extinguishers are not purely for decoration. They are simple enough to use as long as you read the instructions (and remember to take out the pin before using).
Lastly, swing by your local fire station and get to know the brave men and women who have the honor, duty and privilege to represent and protect your neighborhood. These individuals are a wealth of knowledge, especially if you have young children, the elderly or disabled individuals living in your home. They have even more useful and practical tips to prevent dangerous and tragic outcomes. Spend just a few minutes thinking about this so you can clear your mind and sleep easily.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of “The Aftermath” on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.