In light of the very sad occurrence last Shabbat in Brooklyn, where a family was decimated by seven siblings being killed in a fire, I thought I should go over two items as the “Halacha of the Week”. First, in light of smoke alarms and other similar safety devices. There is no question that it is a Torah Mitzvah for a person to safeguard their family by ensuring that working smoke alarms and CO2 alarms are installed throughout the home. When having such alarms are not only simple to maintain, they are also the law in Vaughan, one is negligent and cruel if they do not ensure the safety of their family by having these items operational in their home.
Secondly, there are numerous times when our religious practices require us to have an open flame in our home. Be it Shabbat candles, a Menorah or a yahrzeit candle, these flames when neglected or left unguarded in our homes can present a dangerous situation. Not to mention, similarly, our Shabbat and Yom Tov requirement to have hot food can present a real problem to the safety of our family.
In this recent case, a hot plate caused the fire which destroyed the family and their home. So, allow me to discuss the hot plate. First, one must make sure that it is in excellent working order. Secondly, do not put flammable items on the hot plate. We know that, right? Well, many people put a dish towel on top of the pot that they leave on the hot plate. The dish towel’s purpose is to increase the heat in the pot, which is permissible according to Torah. However, if left there, it can also ignite and start a fire.
As well, as long as one does not have “wet food” like soup or chulent on the hot plate it is permissible to use a shabbat clock to turn it off at night and back on in the morning. This elevates all issues of the hot plate running all night. One should be sure to leave the hot plate in a well ventilated area, so that the heat will not build up (be it under a shelf or cabinet). The bottom line, while we observe the laws of Shabbat, we, also, must observe the laws of safety for our homes and family.
We need to look at our homes and practices with an eye for detail to be sure that we can observe Torah in the area of fire, heat and safety. What happened in Brooklyn last Shabbat is certainly rare, however, looking at statistics- most fatalities in a home fire are young children, most home fires happen due to open flames and electrical mishaps. Let us be sure that our homes are holy and safe for all concerned, in every way possible.
There is a very interesting film circulating showing when smoke detector alarms went off under the parent's instigation, none of their children woke up to them. How safe are they? There are now available vocal smoke alarm detectors. The parents record a message like, "Quickly wake up! Fire", and this seems more effective in waking children.