Fire Prevention 52: Electrical Fires--A Shocking Topic

wall outlet on fire

Make Sure your Workspace is Fire Safe

NPS employees get the opportunity to work in historic old buildings, often displaying NPS character with wooden floors that squeak and a familiar musty ranger station smell. Many of these buildings were built before the electrical typewriter was a common office item. Today, we have computers, monitors, printers, scanners, and more all gang plugged into the only outlet close enough to our desks, or we have been forced to run an extension cord from another part of the building.

Statistically, we know that electrical fire is an important cause of structure fires throughout the United States, and the National Park Service has seen its share. Is your park next?

What can we do? The obvious long-term solutions are work orders to upgrade our electrical systems. But as we all know, that will not solve the problem quickly.

Let's learn how to avoid the next devastating loss. Look to the Take Action section below to find things you can do now.

Fire Info for You

We are asking you, the employee, to take action, to look for electrical fire hazards, in your office and in your home. Nobody knows these areas better than you do. Be an advocate, be proactive, and take action. Learn more about electrical hazards.

Park Leadership
Responding properly to employee concerns of electrical hazards will help ensure that your park is not the next one to lose a treasured historic building.

Take action, make sure all reports receive a proper Risk Assessment Code. The risk assessment code for worn or frayed wiring should be reported as very high--a 1 or 2--as the probability of a fire starting is likely and the severity catastrophic. Until the hazard is fixed, take action on interim control measures.

National/Regional Leadership
We can ensure that electrical hazards in our buildings are identified and corrected by using a comprehensive inspection program conducted by trained professionals.

Regional leaders can help by promoting training for park employees and by developing strategies that promote accountability.

The structural fire program has an annual inspections web page (internal link) that will make it easy for parks and regions to see their progress in conducting these annual inspections.

Take Action

  1. Check your work space. Are you plugging multiple electrical devices into one outlet? If so, get a surge protector that will shut off if overloaded.
  2. Look beyond your work space. If you see exposed wiring that is frayed or worn, report it now!
  3. Is your electrical panel blocked by storage? If it is, move everything so you have quick access to the panel.

NPS Fire Facts

The National Fire Protection Agency reported the loss of 500 people and $862 million in damages from fires caused by electrical systems nationwide in 2005.

Electrical fires are believed to be the reason we lost Yosemite's Glacier Point Hotel and historic El Portal Market, as well as the warehouse storing valuable vintage costumes for the Lost Colony play at Cape Hatteras's Ft. Raleigh District. These are just a few examples of losses from electrical fires.

Fire protection engineers have inspected about 18% of NPS buildings and found that more than 12% have issues with worn or frayed wiring, unsafe use of extension cords, and other electrical fire hazards.

Last updated: October 19, 2016