April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Bergen County Rabbis React to Sassoon Tragedy

Upon hearing about the tragic death of the seven Sassoon children in Brooklyn, the Jewish community reacted with shock and sorrow. As most of us have already heard, the Friday night fire was sparked by a faulty hot plate. Because of this, the fire department in Brooklyn reacted by launching an all-out fire-safety initiative and handing out pamphlets door to door entitled “Fire Safety for Jewish Observances.” In addition, Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) and The Home Depot distributed free state-of-the-art smoke detectors to members of the Brooklyn Jewish community.

It is not only in Brooklyn that communal leaders are re-examining fire-safety practices in Jewish homes. Just days after the horrific fire, Teaneck Councilman Elie Y. Katz sent out a mass e-mail to Teaneck residents summarizing fire-safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). He also included the number Teaneck residents can call to receive a free fire inspection by the Teaneck Fire Prevention Bureau (201-808-8080 extension 5206).

“This tragedy has served as a wake-up call for many Teaneck residents to make us more alert and vigilant about life safety issues in our home,” said Katz. “Teaneck has a paid full-time fire department but prevention and doing simple safety actions like changing smoke detector batteries, installing carbon monoxide detectors, and buying a fire extinguisher will save lives and help keep Teaneck residents safe.”

According to the NFPA, US Fire Departments responded to an estimated annual average of 156,600 cooking-related fires between 2007 and 2011, which resulted in 400 civilian deaths. Two out of every five home fires started in the kitchen and unattended cooking was a factor in 34 percent of reported home cooking fires.

Since leaving food to warm unattended on Shabbos or Yom Tov is a common practice in Jewish homes, many rabbis have met with their local fire chiefs recently to discuss how to do this more safely. Fire fighters generally recommend that food is not left to cook or warm unattended. However, no rabbi is going to expect his congregants to stop warming food for Shabbos or Yom Tov. As Rabbi Levi Neubort, spiritual leader of Anshei Lubavitch in Fair Lawn, said, “No one wants to eat cold cholent on Shabbos.”

Neubort and his assistant rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Bergstein, met recently with the Fair Lawn Fire Marshall, who stressed that families need to have and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of their homes. According to the NFPA about 60 percent of reported home fire deaths from 2007 to 2011 resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Properly functioning smoke alarms cut the risk of death in reported home fires by half.

Neubort related that the fire marshall also told him that in 1971 smoke detectors cost about $100, but are now available for only $5–$10. Therefore, most homes now do contain smoke detectors and home fire-related deaths have dropped from 30,000 a year in 1971 to 3,000.

In addition to purchasing and maintaining smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, Neubort also suggests that families install timers on their hot plates and crock pots so that they automatically turn off when they are not in use. Another recommendation Neubort is making to his community is to keep a window open in the kitchen if they are using a blech over a stove top to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The risk of suffering complications from carbon monoxide emissions on Shabbos or Yom Tov is not just a possibility, but actually occurred in Teaneck on Shavuot in 2011. Thirteen people in one home were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning due to a gas oven that was left on to heat food for the holiday. None were seriously injured. The Teaneck Fire Department noted at the time that the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is intensified in modern homes since, with running air conditioning, most people keep windows shut.

Although fires or carbon monoxide poisoning is not a common occurrence on Shabbos or Yom Tov, “even one occurrence is way too many,” said Neubort.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, of Ahavath Torah in Englewood, who also met with officials from his local fire department, will actually discourage his congregants from using a traditional blech over a stove. He would prefer to see members of his community using hot plates and warming cabinets. In his opinion, “blechs over burners create the greatest danger.”

Goldin is also encouraging his congregants to make sure all their appliances have the proper UL listing and are in good repair.

Neubort and Goldin are just two of the many area rabbis who have recently met with fire officials and are issuing reminders of proper fire safety procedures to their congregants.

As Neubort said, “V’nishmartem me’od nafshoseichem (you should guard over your lives very carefully). It is a mitzvah in the Torah. You think that it’s (a fire) not going to happen, but these things happen and you’ve got to use common sense and be careful.”

By Tova Domnitch

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