Sunday, March 22, 2015

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Horrific Tragedy in Flatbush

A horrific tragedy struck the Jewish community in Flatbush, New York City, with a house firing killing 7 children, severely injuring another and severely injuring the mother this past Shabbos. 

People are urged to pray or say tehillim (Psalms) for Gila bas Tziporah and Tziporah bas Gila.

A commentor on the source article added this strong statement:

According to Rambam (Hil. Taanis 1:1-3), it is a positive commandment of the Torah for every individual to cry out and search his ways at a time of national calamity, for G-d visits calamities upon Israel to inspire each Jew to repent for his misdeeds. If someone fails to recognize that tragedies occur through an act of G-d rather [than] through happenstance, he is considered cruel, because he will not be motivated to improve his behavior. as a result, G-d will beset Israel with more troubles, until all are motivated to change their ways.

At the same time we are making such a cheshbon nefesh (a soul accounting), we should also ask about physical protection, as halacha also states we are required to guard our lives.

The suspect source of the fire is an electric Shabbos blech/plata (hot plate), which assumablely shorted out or melted the electric power cord.  Fire officials noted that the home was not equipped with smoke detectors, and though it’s not mentioned it probably was not equipped with sprinklers, fire extinguishers, or escape ladders (the bedrooms where the children were trapped were on the second floor).

When my family lived in New Jersey in an older wood frame house (like much of the construction in the U.S. Northeast), I was very concerned about a fire which would be able to quickly spread in such an old wood home.  Those living in such homes would be very wise to take cheap and easy precautions such as:

- A smoke detector in the main living area.
- A smoke detector near the bedrooms.
- A smoke detector on each floor of the house, including the basement.
- A fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and near each bedroom area or in each bedroom.
- On the second floor, an escape ladder to exit the window.
- A carbon monoxide detector by the bedrooms and in the basement or wherever the heating and hot water systems are located.

And a couple times a year, actually practice what to do in case of a fire.  Small investment, life saving results in the event of a fire.

While living in the home we did have a carbon monoxide alert in the middle of the night, which was real as the old heating system had something break on the inside and flooded the basement with the deadly odorless gas.

On another occasion over Pesach (Passover), someone set a hot pan down on a plastic plate, then picked it up and put it back on the stove fire.  Instant dripping plastic fire!  Our nearby kitchen fire extinguisher kept that from engulfing the kitchen and house.

BUT REB AKIVA, doesn’t halacha say you can’t put out a fire on Shabbos or Yom Tov?  You can put some water around it to prevent it from spreading, but not put it out.  Didn’t you violate Yom Tov with the fire extinguisher?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!  Indeed, one can’t put out a fire on Shabbos or Yom Tov… unless there is a risk to life – risk to property is ignored.  BUT, as the poskim clearly describe, ANY TIME there are children at home there is risk to life.  And anytime there is elderly at home there is risk to life.  And anytime the house is wood… there is risk to life.  And anytime the fire could spread from house to house (as in wood construction in the U.S.) there is risk to life.  Or the smoke could flow into other apartments and cause smoke inhalation (as in Israeli condo building construction), risk to life.  So if your couch caught on fire, and you were home alone in a non-attached single house in Israel, which is concrete and block construction, and the neighboring homes are distant from yours (to not get the smoke), and their roofs have clay tile (so sparks aren’t going to light them on fire), and the front door isn’t locked (you have time to get out), THEN it’s prohibited to put out the fire… instead you just walk out the front door and let it burn (on Shabbos or Yom Tov). 

One, especially with children at home, should be particularly vigilant with Shabbos candles, Chanukah candles, leaving on fires for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and yes even with electric ones.  When using electric ones, purchasing quality tested products (UL in the US) is important, as well as being very careful where it is placed in case of sparks and being careful with the electrical cord and use of any extension cords.

May Hashem protect us all!

2 comments:

Neshama said...

I am mourning with the Sasoon family. I keep seeing those seven precious neshomas in the beds sleeping soundly ....
So fast it engulfed the entire home. That poor husband!

Also the Fogels left us on Parshas Vayikra

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry but even a tiny fire can quickly turn into a huge conflagration, and if it is possible and safe to put it out by any means available I would do it on Shabbos without a moment's hesitation. Afterwards, I can ponder the efficacy and whether it was pekuash nefesh or an aveirah: put on the spot, especially where fire is concerned, I would if I was able extinguish it immediately.

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