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Fire Safety Education Training

(Robert Harkness)

By Adrian Currie

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson hosted a faith based virtual fire safety education training in February following the January deadly apartment fire in The Bronx that killed 17 people.  The training sought to teach Bronx residents fire prevention measures and how to keep safe in the event of an apartment or building fire.  Members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), American Red Cross – Greater New York Region, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, and the Bronx Clergy Task Force led the virtual presentation, as Bronx residents and other group affiliates chimed in and asked questions.

Gibson gave the opening remarks.  “We have been reminded over the last several weeks of the importance of making sure that New Yorkers and Bronxites are as trained as much as possible on disaster preparedness and in the event of an unfortunate fire,” she said.

Vanessa Gibson

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Vanessa Gibson

Some of the topics covered included the importance of developing an escape plan, knowing if your building is fireproof, the importance of maintaining a working smoke alarm, electrical and kitchen safety, winter fire safety, and how to partner with FDNY to host fire safety education events.

Gibson spoke briefly on the deadly Bronx fire and what’s being done to prevent another such tragedy.  “January 9, our borough was faced with a horrific five-alarm residential fire in the Fordham Heights community at Twin Parks Northwest, a 120-unit development of working-class community members and many of our local residents and neighbors,” said Gibson.  “Unfortunately, due to this tragic fire, we lost 17 neighbors – nine adults and eight children…We have to continue to train residents and talk to our families about what they can do in the event of a fire.”

Vanessa Gibson

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Vanessa Gibson, II

Gibson added that every Bronx resident should have heat, hot water, self-closing doors, and functional fire and smoke alarms provided by building managers, owners, and landlords. And, she vowed to ensure that they’re being held accountable if they are not providing these services for residents in their buildings.  “Even in the middle of pain, we will find purpose,” said Gibson.

She encouraged those present to share the information discussed with family, friends, civic clubs, church members, and any other organization or group of affiliation.

Vanessa Gibson

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Vanessa Gibson, III

The January 9 fire that broke out at the Bronx Twin Tower on East 181st Street resulted from a faulty electric portable heater in one of the units, according to the FDNY.  “The fire was contained to the hallway just outside this two-story apartment, but the smoke traveled throughout the building and the smoke is what caused the deaths and serious injuries,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at a press briefing the following day.

Bronx Clergy Task Force Chairman Bishop Angelo Rosario called on clergymen of all faiths to come together and support the FDNY and American Red Cross initiative to help educate and train residents of The Bronx on fire safety preparedness and prevention.  “I pray that all of us that are on here, that we come together as a family from different houses of worship, whether a Muslim brotherhood or Emons or Hinduist, our Catholic Churches, our Baptist, Pentecostal, all people of faith… especially in The Bronx,” said Rosario. “We thank God for the FDNY and their ability to be able to have a heart, to be able to help our communities.”

Bishop Angelo Rosario

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Bishop Angelo

Captain Michael Kozo of the FDNY Fire and Education Unit begin his presentation pointing out that there have been 22 fire deaths already this year, while there were 73 total in 2021, a 16% increase from the 63 deaths in 2020. “It’s a bad start to the year, and we’re hoping that these messages that we’re getting out to everybody do make a difference somewhat.”

Kozo said that electrical, smoking, and cooking were the top three causes of fatal fires in 2020 and that smoking remains the top cause nationwide. Unattended cooking is a leading cause of fires and related injuries. Kozo said that there’s an increase in fatal fires during the winter months and that most fires occur between midnight and 8 am and begin in kitchens or bedrooms.

Some of the circumstances that increase the likelihood of fatalities include no operable smoke alarm, no proper evacuation plan, re-entering the burning building, and blocked escape routes.

Captain Michael Kozo

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Captain Michael Kozo

Kozo listed some tips to help minimize fire risk or injury when cooking:

– Never leave cooking food unattended, heat cooking oils gradually, turn pot handles inward away from the front of the stove.
– Always wear short or tight-fitting or rolled up sleeves, as loose clothing could catch fire.
– Keep anything that can catch fire, such as paper or plastic bags or towels away from the stove-top.
– Never use aluminum foil or metal objects in a microwave.

Kozo explained the Local Law 117 of 2018, which was passed as a direct response to a 2017 deadly fire that killed 13 people in the Belmont section of The Bronx. This amendment states that owners of a multiple dwelling are obligated to provide stove knobs for gas stoves in units where there’s a child under the age of six or upon request if no child under six lives there. That fire was caused by a 3-year-old child who was playing with the stove, said Kozo.

Some important things Kozo said to have on hand when cooking include an oven mitt, baking soda, and a pan lid. In the event of a fire, the baking soda can be used to smother a small fire as could a pan lid, taking the oxygen away from the fire. He said not to try taking the burning pan to the sink and that “we never wanna use water on a grease fire.”

Captain Michael Kozo

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Captain Michael Kozo II

Kozo covered the various types of fires and fire extinguishers and the proper way to use an extinguisher using the acronym P.A.S.S. (Pull. Aim. Squeeze. Sweep.)  Pull the pin from the trigger. Aim at the base of the fire. Squeeze the trigger. And sweep side to side as the agent is being released from the extinguisher. Kozo recommended looking for an A, B, C extinguisher, as it can handle ordinary combustibles (A), flammable liquids (B), and fires involving electrical equipment (C).

“Most electrical fires began in plugs or cords on appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, lamps or space heaters,” said Kozo. He encouraged participants to protect electrical cords from damage and purchase cords or appliances that have the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) mark.

He advised participants to use the correct wattage light bulb that the light fixture calls for and not to overload extension cords, and to use three-pronged outlets for three-pronged electrical devices. “Unplug appliances such as toaster ovens, hair dryers, flat irons and coffee pots when not in use,” he said. “Avoid plugging high-wattage large appliances, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, irons, microwave ovens, dishwashers, and deep fryers, into the same outlet or circuit.”  To avoid electrical fires, Kozo said, never plug large current appliances such as those that heat or cool into an extension cord.

Captain Michael Kozo

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Captain Michael Kozo III

Other topics Kozo covered were how to minimize home-heating fires and the dangers and proper care of lithium batteries. “The major causes of home heating fires are poorly maintained systems and placing space heaters too close to combustible items,” said Kozo.  He also said that when using devices powered by lithium batteries not to charge the device under a pillow, on a bed, or a couch. He said to keep the batteries or devices at room temperature, avoiding direct sunlight, as they can overheat, catch fire or explode. Devices that commonly use lithium batteries are cell phones, laptops, tablets, electric cars, and scooters.

Kozo advised using large, deep ashtrays when smoking indoors and dousing a cigarette completely in water before throwing it away. He advised never smoking while lying down, nor leaving a lit cigarette in an ashtray. To prevent candle fires, he recommends having flashlights handy or utilizing flameless candles only.

Captain Michael Kozo

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Captain Michael Kozo IV

Kozo explained how to properly install smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms and how to decipher the different beeps they signal. For the deaf, FDNY or Red Cross volunteers will install a special alarm called the Lifetone alarm that sits bedside and visually displays the word “FIRE” while loudly screaming “FIRE” if it detects the sound of a smoke alarm.  It works with the traditional home smoke alarm and includes a vibrator that’s placed under the pillow. If needed, a pulsator can also be installed on the bed itself to vibrate the entire bed when the Lifetone alarm sounds. Strobe light is another type of alarm that is installed inside the home for deaf and hard to hear people, as it flashes brightly when the alarm is triggered.

He stressed the importance of having a meeting place somewhere outdoors near the home in case of a fire evacuation and the importance of knowing whether your building is fireproof or non-fireproof, as they both have different fire safety features and protocols.

If there is a fire and you live in a non-fireproof building, you should leave immediately, according to Kozo. If your building is fireproof and the fire is in your apartment, you should leave immediately, closing the apartment door behind you. If, however, the fire is not in your apartment, FDNY recommends staying put inside of your unit, stating that “it is usually safer to stay inside your apartment rather than entering dangerous, smoke-filled hallways.”

In case of fire, Captain Kozo says not to attempt fighting the fire as it will delay your escape or your call to the fire department. Don’t gather personal belongings, implement your fire escape plan and leave using closest or safest exit.

In the event you become trapped, Kozo says to close all the doors between you and the fire and call 911. For families with autistic members, Kozo advises practicing your fire drill, wrapping them in a blanket or coat to provide a sense of security, and selecting a quiet and familiar meeting spot.

Captain Michael Kozo

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Captain Michael Kozo VII

A second FDNY fire safety educator further encouraged participants to share the information discussed with their communities, faith-based organizations, schools, families, and friends. Fire safety tool kits were provided to the organizations present so that they can conduct their own fire safety trainings.

The purpose of the trainings is to get communities to work together and with the FDNY and Red Cross to help save lives through fire safety education, according to FDNY. The FDNY educator stated that the training can be tailored to each community or group, including in different languages. “Do invite us to the forums to speak to your congregants, to your residents, constituents, ultimately to bring this fire safety training back to your community,” said the educator.  “We encourage everyone to coordinate fire safety trainings.”

The FDNY has a smoke alarm installation program in which the FDNY or Red Cross volunteers will come to residents’ homes to install a new detector at no cost, as well as provide a brief safety training and tips while there. Those in attendance were encouraged to reach out to FDNY at www.FDNYSmart.org to schedule trainings, smoke detector installations, or for material on fire safety education and trainings.

Captain Michael Kozo

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Captain Michael Kozo VIII

One of things that we’ve found over the years is that giving the message of preparedness – fire preparedness, job preparedness – to youth is very effective.”

American Red Cross representative Jason Lyons covered some of the ways the organization helps with fire safety. “When there’s a fire, you will see our response teams on the ground alongside the FDNY, doing our response work, sheltering folks, making sure people have a place to stay and then looking at how can we give them care long-term,” said Lyons.

Two youth preparedness programs Lyons mentions are The Pillowcase Project, designed for kids grades 3-5 (ages 7-11) and Prepare with Pedro for grades K-2. Both programs teach kids household and fire preparedness safety education and can be held at schools or any setting where youth gather, according to Lyon. “One of the things that we’ve found over the years is that giving the message of preparedness – home fire preparedness, general preparedness – to youth is very effective,” said Lyons. “They take it and grow up with it. It becomes part of their culture. They also take it and bring it home to their family members.”

The American Red Cross also has an app called Monster Guard that helps kids ages 7-11 prepare for real-life emergencies, Lyons said.  Other Red Cross mobile apps are available for download to help with emergency preparedness.

“We want you to help us get the message out there.”

The American Red Cross in partnership with FDNY runs a Home Fire Campaign, an initiative set to “reduce fire-related deaths and injuries by 25% in the US.”  A large part of the campaign is the Sound the Alarm program, where Red Cross volunteers or members of local fire departments install free smoke/carbon monoxide alarms in homes while, also providing a fire safety education training if requested.

Lyons explained the Hands Only CPR preparedness program in which participants learn how to perform chest compressions and check someone for consciousness. Lyons also talked about the Be Red Cross Ready, a program for high school students and older in which the Red Cross presents a fire safety education training and disaster preparedness.

Lyons encouraged participants to schedule and promote fire safety education events and to distribute the Red Cross material. “We want you to help us get the message out there,” Lyons said of the programs. “We can talk this over and over and over to the same people, but it goes nowhere if the message doesn’t reach everyone.”

Jason Lyons

Bronx Journal Radio · Fire Safety Jason Lyons

Participants were permitted to ask questions about the information covered in the training before the meeting convened. Lyons made clear during the questioning that those needing service from either the FDNY or the American Red Cross need not be concerned about immigration status or language barriers, as they will go out to install smoke alarms and conduct trainings in any case.

One participant, Ebrahim Ndure, a resident of the Highbridge area of the Bronx, asked what type of heater the FDNY might recommend, because, he said, “Space heaters are very dangerous.” Kozo responded that space heaters are the only option recommended, reminding everyone that kerosene and propane heaters are illegal.  “There’s really no other safe way to heat your home other than to obviously go to the owners and request that the heat be increased,” said Kozo.

Another participant asked the FDNY whether there are programs geared towards making NYCHA residents aware of the importance of having working smoke detectors. “We are working with NYCHA right now, with the Resident Engagement Division, and also with the Department of Youth and Community Development, working through their Cornerstone programs, basically targeting every development in the city,” said Kozo. “We are making an effort, not only in person and virtually, but at the same time providing information that can be disseminated electronically.” He added that they’re also working with NYCHA residents on the other key safety tips discussed in the training.

Kozo said the FDNY works with tenant associations and staff could come to annual or monthly meetings presentations.

Lyons of the Red Cross said its staff is also available. “If you can just connect us to come to your faith-based organization, come to your mosque, come to your church, come to your school, and share the word, we would love to do it!” said Lyons. “We just need that connection.”

Trainings are expected to be ongoing by the FDNY and NYC’s American Red Cross and can be requested for in-person or virtual, along with fire safety information and tips through FDNY on their website at www.FDNYSmart.org or through Red Cross by emailing Jason Lyons at Jason.Lyons@RedCross.org or Olga Wallace at Olga.Wallace@RedCross.org.

Bronx Community Board 9 member, Angel Martinez, raised his hand for the final question. “We need to take this message and spread it to our neighbors,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that we don’t just put it all on the American Red Cross or the fire department. It’s all our responsibility. It’s society’s responsibility to make sure that we take care of each other.”

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