5 Fire Prevention Tips That Will Keep You & Your Neighbors Safe

Living in Southie is awesome. Whether you own or rent, the close proximity to Downtown Boston, the Seaport and the beach are enough positives for many of us who have set up home base here. Then add in all the restaurants, bars, shops and green space, you wonder why anyone would want to live any place else?

We know we’re not telling you anything about Southie that you don’t already know. It’s an outstanding place to live and work, which is why the Lighthouse Insurance team has been here for more than 20 years. But maybe there are a few new things we can offer some perspective on, particularly when it comes to living safely in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Boston.

It’s definitely hard not to get to your know neighbor in Southie. In fact, you probably know a lot more about them than you ever wanted to because living here means you are basically on top of, right next to, and immediately below or above other residents. This close proximity means you share a lot of common space, like walls and stairwells, but also sometimes the backyard, basement and roof deck. You also have a common interest in keeping all the homes in the neighborhood safe.

The most recent Suffolk County Fire Data Analysis Report states that 68% of fires in Boston were in multifamily homes and apartments. Boston also has the second highest rate of structural fires in the Suffolk County, two times the state average. The average loss associated with these fires is $8,239 per structure. Thankfully, most of these fires resulted in no major injuries or deaths.

According to the report, in 2013 the most common causes of fires in Boston were:
• 86% caused by cooking
• 4% heating related
• 3% indoor rubbish
• 3% electrical problems
• 2% smoking

Over the last two weeks, our city has experienced two major fire emergencies. The 6-Alarm fire in Charlestown and the 4-Alarm fire in East Boston are somber reminders that due to the tightly packed neighborhoods of Boston, a fire here can quickly spread from home to home. And unfortunately, the team at Lighthouse Insurance has seen its fair share of loss due to fire.

But we have also seen fires prevented and many lives saved due to proper preparation and attention to potential hazards. Here are five of the best tips we can offer to our South Boston neighbors to protect against a fire in your home:

1. Cook With Care: Cooking is not just the number one cause of fires in Boston; it also tops the list nationally. Make sure any cook(s) in your home know how to prepare food without setting off the smoke alarms! For instance:

• never leave pots and pans on the stove unattended
• always turn the burners off before you leave the room
• clean your oven of excess grease before you use it
• keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, or very close by

If, despite your best safety practices and expert cooking skills, a small grease fire does start, do not try and move the pot or pan! First turn off the heat and then, if it’s safe to do so, put a metal lid or cookie sheet on the pan to cut off the oxygen supply to the fire. You do not want to use a glass lid for this because it may shatter from the extreme heat. If a metal lid isn’t an option or doesn’t work, then pour a large amount of baking soda on the fire. And contrary to what your instincts might tell you, never, ever use water to put out a grease fire. Finally, if the fire begins to spread, evacuate your home immediately and call the fire department at once.

2. Make S’Mores Indoors: Did you know that in 2014 the Boston City Council amended the Fire Prevention code to prohibit the use of “outdoor patio and space heaters, outdoor decorative heating appliances and outdoor fireplaces such as chimney, fire pits or outdoor fireplaces using solid fuel including charcoal, wood, fuel pellets or any non-gaseous fuel”? We love the idea of sitting around a fire pit on a cool fall evening as much as you do. But rather than protest this regulation, we think it’s a really smart one as well as potentially life-saving one. Open-air fires create significant risks, especially in densely populated areas. So put aside your dreams of an outdoor fire pit in your small backyard for now, but do so knowing you could be saving your life and those of your neighbors, plus saving yourself from thousands of dollars in possible property damage, legal and medical fees should you be the cause of a fire.

3. Be The Grill Master: While we are on the subject of outdoor fire, the City also banned the use of charcoal and gas grills on roof decks, fire escapes, covered decks and any other structures not on the ground. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grill outdoors in the city; you can still enjoy your traditional backyard barbecue. However, like cooking indoors, you should follow some basic safety tips, including:

• Keep your grill away from the house and low hanging tree branches. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends you create a three foot virtual ring around it to keep your home, kids and pets safe.
• Open the lid of your gas grill before you light it, check the connection for gas leaks frequently and clean your grill after every use by scraping off old grease.
• Never leave your grill unattended.
• If you are using a charcoal grill and want to dispose of the coals then make sure you have a safe place to put them, like a dedicated metal trash can with a lid.
• Do not keep any disposal device on your deck or porch and store it a safe place away from combustibles

The City Of Boston actually has a section of great BBQ safety tips on their website that we recommend you read.

4. Thank You For Smoking Safely: In May of this year there was a rooftop fire in Southie that started when someone put out their cigarette in an outdoor planter. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but seven people were displaced from their homes, and the fire spread to both neighboring buildings before the fire department was able to get it under control. So, if you are a smoker, these next few tips are specifically for you:

• Never smoke in bed.
• Use a clean, large ashtray to dispose of smoking materials. More importantly, do not use a wastebasket, potted plant, outdoor planter or anything that is not fire proof.
• Keep all matches and lighters stored away where children cannot access them.

5. “From a Tiny Spark, May Burst A Mighty Flame” (Dante): Early this month 500,000 hoverboards were recalled after their motors overheated, subsequently burning riders and damaging property. Boston had its first such mishap on May 9th in the North End when a hoverboard caught fire in an apartment causing over $100,000 in damage and displacing three families from their homes. When it comes to electrical fires, toys typically are not to blame, but this just goes to show you how unpredictable fire is and how important it is to be vigilant with safely storing or using electrical items. In general, electrical fires are caused by improper use of items, such as:

• portable heaters
• appliances like coffee makers and microwaves
• extension cords, which by the way are intended for temporary use only

In fact, never use an extension cord for any heat-producing electrical units. Also, the USFA recommends you use one electrical outlet per heat-producing appliance. We know it’s a drag to plug and unplug something if space doesn’t allow for this ratio. But believe us, it’s worth it, especially in the older multifamily homes in Southie where the electrical wires may not have been updated in this century.

Please know that these safety tips only cover the surface when it comes to preventing a fire in your South Boston home. One of the best ways to alert you, your roommate and your family if a fire was to break out in your home is to have working smoke detectors. And we know you’ve heard this before, but we recommend you change the batteries when you change the clocks each season. You can also stay vigilant and use common sense. If your inside voice is telling you it doesn’t sound like a good idea to throw hot cooking oil into your trash, then don’t do it.

We haven’t even mentioned the best way to keep everyone in your family safe: Have an emergency plan. The Lighthouse Insurance website has a helpful tip section where you can find resources on creating an apartment or condo fire evacuation plan, along with many more useful tips.

Closely knit neighborhoods like Southie are what make Boston what it is – a city with a huge heart – but it also means you need to take extra steps to safeguard your home. Like using the tips we’ve provided above and having the proper renters, condo or homeowners insurance to protect you should you ever experience a loss due to not just a fire but also theft or vandalism. We certainly hope it never comes down to that, but if it does, you can count on your Southie agent and neighbor to be here to help.

5 Things to Know Before Becoming A Rideshare Driver

Rideshare services have quickly become one of the most popular components of the modern gig economy. With so many services available, it’s never been easier to join the Transportation Network Company (TNC) industry. Whether driving has become your full time job or is just a side gig you do in your free time, there are a few things any rideshare driver should know.

Understand how each rideshare company is different

Each rideshare company will have different rules and regulations for things like number of years of driving experience or record requirements. For example, to become a Lyft driver in Massachusetts, you must be at least 21 years old and have had your license for at least a year. For Uber, however, if you are under the age of 23, you must have at least 3 years of driving experience. Vehicle requirements can also differ, even within a company. Uber, for instance, has different vehicle requirements for their different services such as UberX or UberSUV.

Know the specific regulations for your city

Each city or state will have its own regulations for how rideshare companies can operate as well as where they can pick up fares. Background check requirements will also differ from state to state as well as specific driving restrictions. In Boston, for example, rideshare services are not allowed to pick up riders at Logan Airport, however they are allowed to drop passengers off there.

It is possible to drive for multiple companies

Many rideshare drivers in Massachusetts choose to work for multiple services. This way, if rides are slow on one app, there is a backup way of finding a fare. If this is your plan, make sure that you understand and meet driver and vehicle requirements for both services.

Filing and Paying Taxes

New drivers should remember that they are required to pay taxes on their rideshare income, even if it is only a side job. Make sure to track your miles and expenses such as gas, insurance, taxes, car repairs and depreciation to get the appropriate tax deductions. Driver should also know that the standard write-off for business use of a car is 56 cents per mile.

Vehicle Registration and Insurance

Once you begin working for a rideshare service, your personal auto policy will not cover you when you are driving for fares. Rideshare drivers should register or rewrite existing personal auto policies as commercial auto policies. In fact, in Massachusetts, on page 2 of the general information portion of the personal car insurance application, drivers are specifically asked whether they are collecting fares for driving. Saying “no” to this question as a rideshare driver is actually a federal offense.

Although some services like Uber offer insurance, drivers should know that this insurance is not regulated and that the amount of coverage is dependent on several factors, including but not limited to: the phase of a trip you’re in (ie just on the app, accepted a trip, picked up a passenger, or ending a trip) or the type of accident you get in. You wouldn’t want to find yourself facing a million dollar lawsuit with only the insurance provided by your rideshare company. We can’t stress enough how necessary a commercial auto policy is for rideshare drivers.

The best way to make sure you’re covered? Get your commercial auto policy from an agent who understands how TNC insurance works.

Driving for a rideshare service can be a great way to make extra income, especially if you have a car and the time to do it. As with any job though, it’s important to do your research before starting. Follow these tips and guidelines to ensure that you are making the most out of your driving time.

Need more help or advice about starting work for a rideshare service? Lighthouse Insurance is an expert in transportation insurance with a specific focus on the TNC industry. Our team is very involved in local Massachusetts TNC regulation and are the best option to make sure you, your vehicle, and your passengers are covered at every step. Give us a call today at 617-464-3777 or visit our website to learn more.