The tragedy of seven children dying in a fire in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week has drawn attention to some Jewish practices in observing Shabbat and holidays. Rabbinical and community leaders in Pitts-burgh are emphasizing that while life and death is ultimately out of the hands of mere mortals, everyone can take steps to ensure that their religious practices are as safe and secure as possible while following Jewish law and custom.
“You have a mitzvah from the Torah to have a safe environment,” stressed Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Congregation, reacting to local concerns raised in the aftermath of the Brooklyn fire, which officials blamed on a malfunctioning hotplate typically used by observant Jews to keep food warm over Shabbat.
Referring to the religious directive to build a railing around your roof if it’s a place where people walk, Wasserman gave a modern example of when safety is a duty: repairing broken stairs. He explained that Jewish law requires people to do everything they can to have a safe home.
Rabbi Daniel Yolkut of Congregation Poale Zedeck also stressed fire safety in a Facebook message posted last Friday.
Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones had some specific recommendations.
Nothing that is combustible should be near or come into contact with open flames, such as Shabbat candles, a heating element such as the tops of hotplates or a stove-top cover, known as a blech in Yiddish, said Jones. Move anything flammable away before Shab-bat starts. After a meal while cleaning up, he advised, make sure that no combustibles are near a hotplate or candles. Every kitchen should have a fire extinguisher.
Smoke detectors should be installed inside every bed-room/sleeping area and on every floor, he continued. Bat-teries should be changed and the outside cleaned twice a year, though some of the newer smoke detectors have 10-year batteries. Smoke detectors get less sensitive over time and have to be replaced after 10 years.
Nancy Zionts of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation suggested that the elderly not attempt to change smoke detector batteries themselves as they are usually installed in a high place. She recommended asking a grandchild, younger friend or neighbor to change batteries the same time they change their own.
The city of Pittsburgh has a smoke detector installation program free of charge for city residents who live in their own homes. To register, call 311 or the Fire Bureau at 412-255-2863.
Over a two-day holiday, such as the beginning of Passover, frequent checking of food warmers is recommended. If a gas stovetop is in use, leaving a window cracked or installing a carbon monoxide detector can mitigate the danger of carbon monoxide building up.
Jones pointed out that the Fire Bureau has a database where residents can register people with special needs by address. In case of an emergency at that address, responders will be notified that someone at that address has special needs. The phone number for this service is 412-255-2860.
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