East Orange issues updated fire safety guidelines in the wake of two fatal fires

EAST ORANGE, NJ — In the wake of the two fatal fires on Sunday, Dec. 11, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor and Public Safety Director Sheila Coley are asking city residents to take extra precautions when it comes to fire safety during the holiday season and cold winter months.

“In light of the recent tragedies and with the onset of the winter heating season, myself and Public Safety Director Sheilah Coley urge residents to make sure that smoke alarms are installed and in working condition,” said Taylor on Tuesday, Dec. 13. “Free smoke alarms are available for seniors and residents of single- and two-family homes. Per city code, residents of multifamily residences and apartment buildings who do not have smoke alarms should contact their landlord and/or property manager to have alarms installed per city code.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths, especially during December through February.

Coley and Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders, who went to the scene of both fatal fires, said residents can follow some simple steps to prevent most heating-related fires from happening. Those steps include: Never use an oven as a heat source; keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, such as the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater; have a 3-foot “child-free zone” around open fires and space heaters; have a qualified professional install stationary space-heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions; have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional; remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed; always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters; make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room; ashes should be cool before putting them into a metal container; keep the container a safe distance away from a residence; and test smoke alarms at least once a month.

Saunders said the warning against using ovens and other heat-generating appliances or apparatus for reasons other than what they are designed for should be particularly noted, in light of the circumstances authorities believe led to the second fatal fire in East Orange on Sunday, Dec. 11. According to acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray and Coley, authorities believe the fire at 25 North Harrison St. that killed Kouadio Loboue, 64, could have been avoided.

“The preliminary investigation indicates Mr. Loboue, who was seated in a walker, appears to have been using the stove to stay warm when his clothing caught fire,” said Murray on Monday, Dec. 12. “He was pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation is active and ongoing. No other information is available at this time.”

Saunders said it’s always unwise to use the kitchen stove to heat an apartment or house, no matter how understandable it is for someone suffering in the cold and seeking to warm up.

“In some of the abandoned homes that we do have, we do have squatters and people that move right in, so my code enforcement guys are out here, getting these squatters out, and the city is boarding these houses up,” said Saunders during a post-fire inspection of the Midland Avenue fire site. “People move right on in and bring in heaters and gas-powered electric generators that create carbon monoxide that can cause death. So we’re out here aggressively just doing what we can do. The good thing about it is that we get a lot of reports from the citizens who are involved and trying to protect themselves and the community.”

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, who is the chairwoman of the East Orange City Council’s Public Safety Committee, agreed that, in the wake of the “tragedies” on Midland Avenue and North Harrison Street, it is the time to put a little more emphasis on fire safety and prevention.

“Fire prevention has been going on,” said Holman on Tuesday, Dec. 13. “It’s just a matter of getting more information out to the community.”

For more information about the city’s ongoing Fire Safety and Prevention efforts, call the East Orange Fire Prevention Bureau at 973-266-5520.