With the holiday of Pesach about to begin, a large gathering of Jewish community leaders came together this past week to hear NYC Fire Department Commissioner Salvatore Cassano discuss a number of important guidelines for residents to follow in order to ensure safety from potential fire hazards. Held at the FDNY Headquarters auditorium at Metrotech Center in Brooklyn, the event was attended by leaders of Hatzolah, Shomrim, Misaskim, Chaveirim, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Aleh Foundation, Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Community Boards 1 and 12, and other organizations.
“The Sabbath and Jewish holidays require kitchen and household preparations that involve the use of fire,” Commissioner Cassano stated. “With Passover, there are additional fire-related issues concerning the search for chametz and its disposal. It is vital for all Jewish New Yorkers to be aware of these guidelines to ensure that they have a safe and healthy holiday.”
The Fire Commissioner then proceeded to enumerate many of the fire safety guidelines that the organizational representatives in attendance were asked to disseminate throughout the community. Regarding cooking and related kitchen activities, he noted the following:
Stay in the Kitchen— Do not leave food that is cooking or freshly hot unattended.
Wear tighter or snug fitting sleeves, to avoid the possibility of loose sleeves catching on fire or getting caught on pot handles.
Take extra precaution when handling boiling water.
Create a “child-free zone” of at least three feet around your stove.
Keep stove area clear of towels, papers or anything that could burn.
Turn pot handles inward, facing the wall, to prevent burns caused by overturning or spills.
Have a pot lid and container of baking soda handy to smother a pan fire. DO NOT USE WATER on the fire.
Treat burns immediately with cool running water and seek prompt medical attention.
Moving on to the practice of candle lighting for the Sabbath and holidays, Commissioner Cassano made the following important points:
Use sturdy candleholders, with flame-protective non-combustible (glass or metal) coverings.
Place candles at least four feet away from curtains, draperies, blinds, cabinets and bedding.
Place candles out of reach of small children.
Never leave burning candles unattended.
Secure hair and clothing, such as sleeves or aprons, from the flame when lighting candles.
The Fire Commissioner then focused on specific fire concerns relating to Pesach preparations. In terms of cleaning, he cautioned the public to be aware that oven cleaners such as Easy-Off can cause severe burns. With regard to bedikat chametz (the search for unleavened bread) around the house, he warned that the leader of the search must take care to keep the candle away from all flammable objects, especially curtains, sofas and tablecloths. The Commissioner also strongly advised using a flashlight to search in places that are hard to reach, and admonished the public to supervise children closely at all times throughout the search process.
Touching on an obvious safety concern – the burning of the chametz on Erev Pesach – Commissioner Cassano stated that one should never use any type of accelerant to increase the flames, and it is crucial to never place any type of aerosol can in or near the flame. He further noted that throughout the period of burning, adults should keep an extra close watch on the children in the immediate area of the fire, and – if possible – a “buddy system” should be arranged wherein an older child is paired with a younger child to monitor his or her actions.
Following the Fire Commissioner’s detailed presentation, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, spoke about the many notable achievements of the Fire Department and presented a trophy engraved “A Mentch” to the Commissioner for his excellence in serving the NYC Fire Department to save lives throughout the city. “The festival of Passover is one of those beautiful moments in Jewish life when we sit together as a family,” Rabbi Potasnick concluded. “We hope that you enjoy this celebration in sweetness and safety.”