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More Calls to RFD for House Fires Since COVID-19 Hit

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Chief Will Jackson said the Rochester Fire Department is answering more calls for house fires since COVID-19. Provided photo

More people home throughout the day. More cooking, inside on the stovetop and outside on the grill.

More house fires.

The Rochester Fire Department has answered 25% more calls since New York went on pause because of COVID-19 than it did last year over the same time.

“We might see a 5% to 10% increase year to year,” RFD Chief Will Jackson said. “When it’s a 25% increase, that’s disturbing.”

The only real difference he can point to from previous years is COVID-19.

“I have to relate it to that,” he said. “Normally, people would be getting out, doing things, working. Now that people aren’t working, they’re home and they’re bored. They want to do something to keep themselves entertained, feel like life is normal. I understand. I’m not against that. I want people to use these items safely.”

Cooking is the leading cause of fires in the nation, and Jackson repeated the saying used by fire prevention advocates: Stand by your pan.

“When you’re cooking, you should be attentive to what you’re putting on the stove or putting in the oven. I’m not saying you can’t walk away for a quick second. But you can’t walk away and do other things and expect that to be OK.”

Jackson said the RFD is responding to more calls throughout the city. “I can’t identify any one area that had more problems than others.”

Jackson said that in addition to kitchen fires, RFD is responding to fires from candles.

“I think people are trying to create an atmosphere … a tranquil environment … because they are at home. We’re not against that, either. If you’re going to use a candle, make sure when you leave that room, you extinguish the candle. Keep them away from combustibles. Put them in a place they can’t be knocked over or blown over by an open window.”

Outside, a grill or chiminea has to be as far from a structure as possible and the flame can’t go higher than three feet.

“The main thing is to be safe,” Jackson said. “Obviously, you can’t go out to restaurants like you normally do, you can’t order out as readily or as easily as you normally do. Be safe about cooking, be safe about the things you’re doing. That’s the main message we want to get out.”

The Rochester Fire Department has these safety tips:

In the kitchen:

Don’t leave pots and pans on the stove unattended. To eliminate accidental burns, don’t wear loose clothing while cooking and always leave handles turned in. If you are cooking with grease and there is a flare-up, try to smother the fire by putting the lid over the pot or pan being used. If this does not work, leave and call 911.

For outdoor recreational fires:

The fire must be constantly attended until extinguished and have sand, dirt, a garden hose or a fire extinguisher ready to put out the fire. Charcoal burners and other open-flame cooking devices cannot be used on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction.

For fires in approved containers the minimum distance from a structure is 15 feet. For a recreational fire (where the pile size is 3 feet or less in diameter and 2 feet or less in height) the minimum distance from a structure or combustible material is 25 feet. For a bonfire (defined as an outdoor fire used for ceremonial purposes) the minimum distance from a structure or combustible material is 50 feet.

Practice exit drills.

Know your escape plan and what to do in the event of a fire.