NFPA Offers Fire Safety Tips Amid Massachusetts Gas Cutoff

Authorities are distributing 24,000 space heaters and 7,000 hotplates to residents of three communities whose natural gas service may be shut off until Nov. 19. Columbia Gas is replacing 48 miles of pipeline following a series of Sept. 13 gas explosions.

Sixty work crews for Columbia Gas have begun the job of replacing 48 miles of cast iron and bare steel pipeline with a distribution system with state-of-the-art safety features, following a series of natural gas explosions on Sept. 13 that killed one person, injured 25 others, and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, Mass.

While electric power has been restored, there are about 8,600 affected customers without natural gas service. Columbia Gas has pledged to restore it to all of them by Nov. 19. To assist those people, the company -- with assistance from the National Guard -- has begun delivering about 7,000 hotplates and soon will deliver approximately 24,000 space heaters.

In response to that news, the National Fire Protection Association posted a reminder Sept. 21 about fire safety for users of those heating units.

The NFPA guidelines for using portable space heaters and hotplates safely:

  • Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from portable space heaters and hotplates.
  • Only use hotplates on a kitchen countertop; make sure the area is clear of towels, oven mitts, paper towels, napkins, mail, and other combustibles.
  • Create a 3-foot "kid-free zone" around space heaters and the cooking area.
  • Never leave portable space heaters or hotplates unattended while in use.
  • Turn off hotplates when not in use.
  • Turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.

NFPA's reminder also said everyone should ensure their home is fully equipped with working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. "Working smoke alarms and CO alarms play a critical role in keeping people safe by alerting them early, giving them time to escape quickly and safely," said Lorraine Carli, NFPA's vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. "Everyone should always be vigilant about fire safety. As Governor Baker and Columbia Gas work to proactively meet the needs of Massachusetts residents, we want to make sure portable space heaters and hotplates are used with the appropriate care," she said. "By following some basic safety tips and guidelines, everyone can safely use these devices to temporarily heat their homes and cook meals."

Columbia Gas has announced that the replacement pipeline will be equipped with safety features such as excess flow valves that automatically shut off gas flow if a service line is damaged or broken.

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