Avoid Heating and Electrical Fires in your Church

Routine inspections can protect your church from fires

On a warm Sunday morning in May, about 50 members of the First English Lutheran Church of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, were gathered in the church basement when a man burst into the basement yelling, “Your church is on fire!”

Members escaped harm, but they stood by helplessly as flames from the steeple spread across the church roof. Firefighters were unable to extinguish the blaze. By evening, the beautiful church, built in 1891, was a total loss.

The cause? Inspectors later attributed the fire to old, faulty electrical wiring in the steeple. It sparked a fire that may have smoldered for days before finally attracting notice.

Protect Your Church from Fires

  1. Have your furnace or boiler and electrical system inspected regularly by a licensed, bonded, qualified contractor who is familiar with your type of system.
  2. Establish a maintenance contract with a qualified contractor. A record of inspection, with a maintenance log, should be posted near the boiler or furnace.
  3. Have a qualified electrician analyze the entire electrical system to see whether it's adequate. If the function of part of the building has changed, an electrical analysis is also important.
  4. Be careful about storage  -  flammable or combustible items should not be stored near the furnace or boiler.
  5. Remember to turn off electrical items, especially space heaters. Other specialized equipment, such as electronic musical instruments, also merit extra attention. In particular, organ motors can short out or overheat if left on for long periods.
  6. Make sure your smoke alarms work. Alarms that automatically alert emergency fire protection personnel are most valuable.


Fortunately, the members of the First English Lutheran Church were able to rebuild. The steeple of the new building is showcased at night with special lighting. “And believe me,” said Ruth McNeil, vice president of the church council, “that steeple wiring has been checked very carefully.”