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Pittsfield Fire Chief Gives Advice After Rash of Electrical Fires
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
03:42PM / Wednesday, January 08, 2020
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Fire Chief Thomas Sammons is warning residents not overload power strips and extension cords after a rash of electrical-related fires in the city.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Fire Chief Thomas Sammons is hoping to stop the wave of electrical fires that have forced people to flee their homes in recent weeks. 
 
Standing next to a fire truck at the main station on Columbus Avenue on Wednesday morning, the chief shared some preventive measures to avoid catastrophe. 
 
"We had five fires in nine days. They were fires where we actually had to pull hose lines. We go to a lot of small electrical instances all of the time where we get in and shut the circuit breakers off. For us, they are insignificant," he said. "But these ... four of them were electrical in nature so that was significant for us to reach out to the community."
 
The chief said no one was hurt in these series of fires that resulted in a total loss of a garage, and the displacement of four families (three from a four-family home and one from a single family home).
 
Sammons did not go into the specifics of the fires but indicated that some of them were caused by the misuse of power strips and extension cords. 
 
Never overload a power strip and make sure it is rated for what you are using, he said. Never plug an extension cord into a power strip or cover it with carpet.
 
As a rule, he said, anything that heats, cools, or cooks should be plugged directly into the wall.
 
"They use a lot of juice," Sammons said.
 
Extension cords should never be used as permanent wiring because they are designed for temporary wiring. They should never be stapled to a floor or wall.
 
"They are temporary and you have to have the right size for the device," he said. "The wiring in your house was designed by engineers so it is going to work when you plug it in."
 
Sammons said much of Pittsfield's housing stock is older and does not have a lot of outlets. Contemporary code calls for an outlet every 12 feet and at least one on every wall. Because of the dearth of outlets in older structures, people sometimes get creative with power strips and extension cords.
 
"These days the codes are different and there has to be outlets every so many feet," he said. "That wasn't the case back then when a lot of these houses were built. There may be two outlets in a room. The way we are with electronics these days, people want 10 things plugged in in one room."   
 
When it comes to space heaters, Sammons said make sure there is 3 to 4 feet clearance around the unit and that it is on level ground. Never leave a space heater unattended. 
 
He said for any device: When in doubt unplug it.
 
Sammons said if a circuit breaker continually pops, whatever is plugged into that outlet is overloading it. This increases the odds of it failing.
 
He said never use a cooking stove to heat a room and make sure all fire and detectors have fresh batteries. He said in the case of some of the aforementioned fires the detectors had dead batteries. 
 
"That is a critical message," the chief said. "You have your kids and you are asleep in your apartment or house — this critical stuff." 
 
He also urged renters to get renters' insurance.
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