Friday, February 18, 2011

Dangers in Coal Country


Travel any back road in Pennsylvania and you will find the little communities called
Coal Patch Towns that were built during the Iron and steel days of Pennsylvania
Typically these towns contained Coal Company built and owned homes that were rented
to Mine Workers Families.
The typical home was simple but sturdily built of wood and was duplex in design to support 2 families.
Because Utilities ,were often lacking in the early days of Coal mining many of these early homes lacked running water and electricity which was not added till early 40’s all the way up to the 50’s.
Which often called for ingenious ways of getting utilities into homes which had their walls enclosed.
Because building codes were non-existent in these communities and they were in rural area .The power and Water to the homes was often supplied directly from the mines themselves. Rather than by a public utility which would have called for a higher installation standard.
As a result many of these homes in these communities have very substandard wiring and plumbing, as the Mines started to close many coal patch town homes were sold off to the miners staying behind, who often times upgraded the homes utilities but many never did.
Even today you will find coal patch homes that still have there original 120 volt 30 amp services that had there fuse panels installed on there back porches
Using regular indoor service panels and wiring instead of outdoor rated equipment.
Often you will find no receptacles in many rooms, and adapters screwed into the light fixtures and extension cords coming down all 4 walls serving as the rooms outlets, or only 1 receptacle ,again with thin extension cords everywhere. Often times you will find wire designed for inside use only being run along the outside of the homes to provide lights and power outlets.
It was one of these very homes with the fuse box on the back porch that recently caught fire in Rural Fayette County that killed 2 young brothers as the fire raced through the balloon constructed home. After a fire broke out in the fuse Panel.The brothers didn’t have a chance.
But this does not tell the whole story.
The occupants noticed lights blinking and fuses were blowing, but they did nothing to correct the situation.
This classic sign of pending danger goes ignored all too often, chalked up to old wiring
And forgotten about.
And when a fire does break out in these outside mounted fuse panels the cause can often be directly traced back to oversized fuses, loose connections and corrosion buildup.
I have seen the fuse sockets in some of these old fuse panels actually get so hot over time as to burn away the insulating material in the fuse socket so that the fuse becomes bypassed and there is no overload protection. So what is the Answer to stopping these fires it is called Education.
Electrical problems in homes such as lights blinking is cause to be concerned.
Plugs sparking when devices are plugged in and out ,excessive sparking at switches and dimming of lights when heavy appliances such as furnaces kicking on .Are all signs something is wrong. But the problem is still getting people to call for an electrician
We in the fire service can mail out reminders about electrical safety but they get tossed in the trash, Fire Prevention days and shows only work when people show up and heed warning.
Free Individual home Inspections offered by your dept. again only work when the advice is listened to.
Recently Duquesne light was installing new wireless reporting meters through out its service territory and when installers found bad outside wiring they would notify the home owners
That they needed to have their wiring looked at and 95% chose to do nothing.
And with the cold winter predicted and wet summer we had, their will again be many tragic
Fires that could have been totally avoided had the home owner used good sense.

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