Electrical fires can devastate your church

By Eric Spacek

“Electrical Problem Likely Sparked Church Fire.”  “Church Destroyed in Suspected Electrical Fire.”  “Electrical Malfunction Determined Cause of Church Fire.”

Unfortunately, headlines such as these are becoming a more common occurrence as churches age. Fires can cause severe damage not only to the property, but also to the congregation itself as it must cope with the lasting effects of the devastation.

Many of these older buildings were not designed to handle today’s electrical equipment loads.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that an average of 1,300 church fires occur each year, causing nearly $38 million in property damages. Of these, 30 percent are the result of mechanical failures, including faulty wiring and improperly functioning heating systems.

Yuletide dangers
December is the most dangerous month for church fires. Churches need to be especially cautious during these months, checking that electrical outlets are not overloaded due to the extra lighting from decorations like Christmas trees or nativity scenes, and also that all decorations and appliances are turned off or even unplugged when the building is unoccupied.

Fires are not the only result of electrical system malfunction. Electrical equipment can breakdown causing interruptions in business. While not as devastating as a fire, this can still be a costly issue.

Fortunately, safeguarding your church from a costly and emotionally devastating electrical fire may be preventable through the implementation of an electrical preventative maintenance program. Consider these tips in your maintenance:

  • Beware of overheating
  • Keep it clean
  • Watch out for water
  • Check connections
  • Regular maintenance is key

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) recommend electrical equipment remains clear of dust and dirt. If these sediments are allowed to build up in filters or around connections, it can lead to costly problems. The IEEE also recommends that the areas around the equipment are properly lit.

Regular and routine maintenance is extremely important. Preventative maintenance should be performed annually, if not monthly, as conditions warrant. A licensed electrician should be engaged to inspect your electrical system to ensure that it is being appropriately maintained.

Don’t ignore the warning signs
If you constantly have a tripped breaker, blown fuse, flickering lights, smell something burning, or you feel a tingle or shock when you touch a device, don’t wait to have these issues checked.  These are all warning signs that there could be a potentially dangerous electrical problem at your facility.

While it can be a costly endeavor, dedicating the staff, time and money now will cost less than rebuilding your church and coping with the loss.

Eric Spacek is senior risk manager at GuideOne Insurance, West Des Moines, IA,  www.guideone.com.


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