By Michael N. Block, Esq — New York City, New York — New York Injury News — According to the United States Fire Administration (“USFA”), in 2005 there were 10 fire deaths per million people in New York State. Last year, fire killed more Americans than all natural disasters combined. (Source; USFA: Fire Statistics 2007). The New York City Fire Department reports that the five boroughs of New York City had over 28,000 fires last year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of fire deaths occurred in residences.
Although there are many causes of home fires, this article will discuss fire prevention in the home during renovation and/or repair by contractors. In the ordinary course of work, construction companies routinely use open flame, heat, and other sources of combustion that put buildings at risk for fire. For example, metal gutters require welding. Roofing materials are often heated, and covered with applications of hot tar. Under certain circumstances, applications of solder or sparks from electrical equipment can ignite a building.
New York State, with a large population, many urban areas and a high concentration of residential buildings, has strict regulations governing this type of work. Section 26 of the Fire Code and Property Maintenance Code of New York State (“the Code”) is a comprehensive body of law with explicit, detailed mandates for the performance of what is known as “hot work.”
The Code defines “hot work” as operations including “cutting, welding…installation of torch-applied roof systems or any other similar situation.” Equipment used for “hot work” includes “electric or gas welding or cutting equipment.” A “hot work area” is “the area exposed to sparks, hot slag, radiant heat or convective heat as a result of the hot work.”
As a first matter, the Code directs that the hot work area be kept clear of scraps, debris and other combustible materials. Cans of flammable fluids, like paint solvents or even fuel for equipment, should be removed if heat or flame is to be used nearby.
Before commencing hot work, a “hot work check” or area inspection must be performed carefully. A contractor is to ensure that exposed surfaces in proximity to the hot work area are not combustible. If the surfaces are exposed and combustible, they must be shielded. For example, oak beams located just above a hot work area are to be covered with a fireproof material.
The installation of partitions to prevent the spread of heat, sparks or flame from a hot work area to the rest of the building are also required.
The contractor must have personnel available to conduct a “fire watch,” policing the hot work area and adjacent structures for the outbreak of flames. The Code is so strict on this point that a fire watch is required to continue “for a minimum of 30 minutes after the conclusion of the work.” Moreover, construction personnel are mandated to have fire extinguishing equipment available at all times and to have received training in its usage. Fire extinguishers must be kept within thirty feet of the hot work area.
Homeowners and landlords should keep these mandated practices in mind the next time contractors perform work on their properties. The safe performance of work involving flame, heat or sparks is not just a matter of common sense, it is the law. Make sure the contractors you hire are familiar with the Code. If you live in a city, there may be local fire ordinances and regulations as well. Always check to see that your contractor is licensed and insured, and has received the necessary permits to perform the work at issue. Taking these basic steps can ensure that the work at your home is done free of incident or property damage.
Always make sure, too, that you as a homeowner carry the appropriate property and casualty insurance coverage in the event that a contractor starts a fire. If you are injured in a fire as a result of the negligence of a contractor, you should consult with a New York premises liability attorney as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation for injuries and property damage.