With more people at home, officials who make safety their business are concerned it could lead to a greater risk of potentially devastating house fires.
"What we are considering with this COVID-19 is because there’s an increase of population being at home now, that is becoming more of a high risk for calls," said Jesse Baughman, fire chief in Portage County’s Edinburg Township and a fire safety educator with the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office. "A high risk of more kitchen fires or smoking incidents because people are home. They’re working out of their home now, the kids are home now, things are being used more during the day."
Baughman said that currently, the state does not have any data to suggest this is what is happening.
"But common sense tells us the possibility is there," he said.
To that end, he said, Baughman is providing educational fact sheets to local fire departments to help them educate the public about home fire safety, such as through social media. Go to www.com.ohio.gov/fire/Prevention.aspx for more information.
Baughman said key points include the dangers of smoking- and cooking-related fires, the No. 1 and two causes of fire casualties in 2019 respectively. Baughman suggested that people should smoke outside and away from combustibles, including oxygen. He also said that cigarettes and cigars need to be disposed of safely — preferably in a metal can.
When cooking, said Baughman, anything combustible should be kept at least a foot away from stoves and children should be kept at least three feet away. Also, before turning an oven on, Baughman advises checking inside to make sure no food has been left in it.
Baughman also stressed proper smoke detector usage, including replacing batteries every six months when the clocks change and replacing smoke detectors 10 years after the manufacture date, which can typically be found on the detector in the vicinity of the battery compartment.
"If that date is older than 10 years, then that smoke alarm needs to be replaced," he said.
Cuyahoga Falls Deputy Fire Chief Chris Martin said the department has not seen an increase in house fires, but he can see why there might be concerns.
"Common sense would dictate that the more time you spend at home, the better the chance you’ll have some sort of fire incidents," he said.
Still, he said he believes that thanks to department educational efforts and a program that provides residents with a free smoke detector and installation, the public already has a good handle on how to avoid situations that can cause fires.
"We’re ready for anything all the time," he said. "I think we have a well-educated populace in Cuyahoga Falls. Smoke detectors are very common, thanks to our fire prevention bureau. I think in general, people are smart about how they act in their homes. Our guys are ready and I don’t think people are going to change their activities. I think they are just going to be more of them and generally people in Cuyahoga Falls are safe."
Baughman said the state is just trying to be proactive.
"We’re trying to get ahead of the game," he said. "What we’re trying to achieve here is to get the message out and make people aware because we are home and because we are doing activities that we might not be normally doing during the day and during the week. We need to be more alert, need to be more aware of what we are doing."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, email@example.com or @JeffSaunders_RP