House Fires Persistent Problem for Low-Income Communities

(Mike Petrucci)

By Megan Walls    

During winter months in New York City it is not uncommon for residents to use a space heater in their apartments, to supplement building heat. It is also not uncommon for these space heaters to cause fires, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). According to the NFPA, space heaters are the “second leading cause of home fires and home injuries.” From 2014 through 2018 there were “48,530 fires involving heating equipment per year.” These fires caused 500 deaths, 1,350 injuries, and $1.1 billion in property damage.

In a December 2021 report “Residential Fire Loss Estimates,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission (cpsc.gov) estimates that portable heaters are implicated in nearly 1,700 fires annually, and cause about 80 deaths and 160 injuries. African Americans have the highest rate of fire deaths and injuries.

The Twin Parks North West building fire on January 9, 2022 caused a great deal of damage to the building, and cost the lives of 17 residents. The building, 19 stories high, erupted in flames due to two contributing factors. The first factor was a space heater. The second was the fact that the door to one of resident’s apartment did not fully close, allowing the fire and smoke to spread throughout the building. “Investigators ascertained that the fire was caused by a defective space heater that caught fire in the bedroom of a third-floor apartment,” according to a press release from  the New York City Council.

(Chris Karidis)

In-home casualities due to fires have been on the rise nationally. According to data provided by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) there were  2,615 deaths in residential buildings. The USFA said that while residential building fires and losses from 2011 to 2020 decreased by 2% during the same period there was a 10% increase in deaths. According to the FEMA’s “New York Fire Loss and Fire Department Profile,” there were 122 home fire fatalities in the state in 2022, compared to 143 in 2021.

The impact of these fires, injuries and deaths are more acutely felt by low-income residents. In the Twin Parks NorthWest fire, a majority of the casualties were African American. According to CPSC’s 2021 Residential Fire Loss Estimates report, “African Americans have the highest rate of fire deaths, nearly twice the overall rate across the population.”

After the devastating Twin Parks building fire, the city implemented initiatives aimed at preventing future fires. One was the “Keeping Homes Fire Safe” campaign, where the city offered residents and property owners fire protection information and guidance on safe-guarding buildings.  The city says that the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is going to follow up on all self-closing door violations in 2023, reinspecting properties after 20 days. There will also be “Proactive inspection starting in July 2023.” Lastly, the city plans to revise training protocols among all relevant agencies and to further develop enforcement and education efforts to reduce fires.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *