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  December 26, 2004

A New Year's Resolution to Keep

By Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

With the end of the year less than a week away, New York is on course to record our fewest fire fatalities in 85 years. That would be since 1919, the last year Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox. It’s likely that there will be only half as many fire fatalities as there were ten years ago, and only a third as many as we saw during the 1970s. And response time to structural fires has also held steady this year at a citywide average of four minutes and 20 seconds.

This truly historic success is a real tribute to the dedication and courage of our firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day protecting our families and homes. This year’s statistics prove that they’re doing a better job than ever. A lot of credit must also go to all New Yorkers, because we’ve become more responsible about the fire hazards in our homes. Practicing home fire safety is especially important at this time of year. Celebrating the holidays and keeping our homes warm against the winter cold presents fire hazards we all need to be mindful of.

Candles are particularly dangerous. Make sure to place them in secure holders and on level, stable surfaces, and never on floors where they can easily be knocked over. Keep them away from flammable materials, and don’t leave them unattended. Ten days ago, burning candles were left near an open window in a Jackson Heights apartment. They ignited a curtain blowing in the breeze. The fire spread throughout the building, killing a woman and critically injuring her husband and their three daughters. It was a terrible tragedy, and one that could easily have been averted. It was also a reminder that, if you find yourself in an apartment fire, you can help contain it, and possibly save lives, by closing the doors behind you as you flee.

Christmas trees are another serious fire hazard right in the middle of many homes. Natural trees can dry out very quickly, and if they catch fire the entire tree can ignite within seconds. So check the tree stand every day and fill it with water frequently. Only use tree lights approved by the Underwriters Laboratories – it should say so on the box –and make sure their wiring is not frayed and that your electrical outlets are not overloaded.

As the weather gets cold, it’s also important to be careful about how we keep our homes warm. Space heaters and other portable units are very popular, but if they’re placed too close to walls or furniture, they can cause fires. So operate them wisely. And never use an oven or other kitchen appliance to heat your home.

The most important safety tips are those we stress every day of the year – not just during the holidays and home heating season. The number one cause of fatal fires is careless smoking. So always extinguish smoking materials completely, and never smoke in bed. Also, make sure you have a working smoke detector on every level of your home, and a working carbon monoxide detector near all sleeping areas. Don’t wait to make installing these devices a New Year’s resolution; do it today.