At home during pandemic? Outlet overuse could increase fire risk

short circuit fire
Photo credit chonticha wat/Getty Images
By KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The coronavirus pandemic is forcing most of us to stay home for work, school and generally longer periods of time. As such, the outlets in your home could easily become overloaded, increasing the risk of starting a fire.

Greg Marshall, communications director for the Philadelphia Firefighters’ and Paramedics’ Union Local 22, said the most common cause of fires in the city is electrical.

“It seems as though there is never enough outlets for new electrical gadgets, whether it’s phones, tablets, the new PlayStation,” he said. “We see things that are supposed to be temporary use, like extension cords. … That creates a hazard.

“There’s a reason why you are supposed to have things on a surge protector or plugged directly into an outlet.”

And now that many children are being schooled at home — often using the same room where the PlayStation is, maybe the printer, perhaps some clutter on the floor — it creates two problems.

“One is the fire load,” he said. “Everything now is basically made of plastics. Plastics are just oil. The fire is going to spread that much quicker. And the more stuff you have in the way, that is going to create an issue for you being able to get out.”

Marshall, who has been a firefighter for 14 years, said situations can escalate quickly.

“You wouldn’t believe how much smoke just one, say, 32-inch TV gives off in a kid’s room. I’ve seen it where the TV is the only thing on fire in the room and the entire room is dark, where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You multiply that by all the other things in the room and you have a really difficult time.”

Marshall also advised not to keep or charge your phone on your bed.

“The phone itself is going to give off heat. When you are charging it, it makes the heat even worse. The phone needs to breathe. When you have the phone on the bed, it can’t dissipate that heat and the phone will actually create the fire.”

He encourages families to take advantage of this time at home together to develop and practice an at-home escape plan in case of an emergency.