With the severe cold weather upon us, many of us are finding ourselves forced to stay indoors. One of the things about being indoors is complacency and losing your “edge”, so to speak. Because you are stuck inside, you should be more aware of your surroundings and habits. Specifically, when cooking, using small or personal space heaters and your oven and washer and dryer, force yourself to pay closer attention to how they are being used. If you have a snow blower/thrower that is stored in a garage and gas operated, don’t store the extra fuel for it in your home or garage. Leave it outdoors. If you are not sure of a particular condition in your home, call your fire department or your building department on their non-emergency phone number and request someone from that agency come and advise you.
The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities have caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of wood-burning stoves is growing and space heaters are selling rapidly, or coming out of storage. Fireplaces are burning wood and manmade logs.
All these methods of heating may be acceptable. They are, however, a major contributing factor in residential fires. Many of these fires can be prevented. The following fire safety tips can help you maintain a fire safe home this winter.
An estimated 236,200 one and two-family residential building fires were reported to United States fire departments each year and caused an estimated 1,980 deaths, 8,525 injuries and 5.5 billion dollars in property loss. Traditionally, January is the month that has the highest number of fires.
Here’s some eye-opening statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration:
• One- and two-family residential building fires accounted for 65 percent of all residential building fires.
Cooking was the leading cause of one- and two-family residential building cooking fires were small, confined fires (91 percent).
• In one- and two-family fires, fire extended in 52 percent of those fires beyond the room of origin. The leading causes of these larger fires were other unintentional, careless actions (17 percent); electrical malfunctions (16 percent); intentional (12 percent); and open flame (11 percent).
• One- and two-family residential building fire incidence was higher in the cooler months, peaking in January at 11 percent.
• Smoke alarms were not present in 23 percent of the larger, nonconfined fires in occupied one- and two-family residential buildings. This is a high percentage when compared to the 3 percent of households nationally lacking smoke alarms. Below is a chart of these statistics.
Here’s a few general tips to follow during the cold weather in particular and for your overall safety in general.
• Be sure that kerosene heaters are legal in your area.
• Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shut off in case the heater is tipped over.
• Never use fuel burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel (coal, kerosene, or propane, for example) can produce deadly fumes.
• Use ONLY the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. NEVER introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that type fuel.
• Keep kerosene, or other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers, in well ventilated storage areas, outside of the house.
• NEVER fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling.
• Refueling should be done outside of the home (or outdoors). Keep young children away from space heaters—especially when they are wearing night gowns or other loose clothing that can be easily ignited.
• When using a fuel burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.
Wood Stoves And Fireplaces
Wood stoves and fireplaces are becoming a very common heat source in homes. Careful attention to safety can minimize their fire hazard.
Use Them Safely:
• Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36”) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.
• Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid con struction and design, and should be laboratory tested.
• Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time.
• Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.
• Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.
• The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 1530 minutes to reduce the amount of
• Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
• Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
• Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite theses materials.
• Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out. NEVER close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.
• If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. NEVER break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.
• It is important that you have your furnace inspected to ensure that it is in good working condition.
• Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.
• Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified. Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required.
• Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Are they well supported and free of holes and cracks? Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak.
• Is the chimney solid, with cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.
• Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.
Other Fire Safety Tips
Never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place them in a metal container outside and well away from the house.
• Never use a range or an oven as a supplemental heating device. Not only is it a safety hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
• If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Only use extension cords which have the necessary rating to carry an amp load. TIP: Choose an extension cord the same size or larger than the appliance electrical cord.
• Avoid using electrical space heaters in bathrooms or other areas where they may come in contact with water.
• Frozen water pipes? Never try to thaw them with a blow torch or other open flame, otherwise the pipe could conduct the heat and ignite the wall structure inside the wall space. Use hot water or a laboratory tested device such as a hand held dryer for thawing.
• If windows are used as emergency exits in your home, practice using them in the event fire should strike. Be sure that all the windows open easily. Home escape ladders are recommended.
• If there is a fire hydrant near your home you can assist the fire department by keeping the hydrant clear of snow so in the event it is needed, it can be located.
• Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke alarm, and be sure to check and clean it on a monthly basis.
• Plan and practice a home escape plan with your family.
• Contact your local fire department for advice if you have a question on home fire safety.
ABG hopes everyone survives this winter blast with minimal problems, aches and pains. Stay indoors, stay vigilant and stay safe. We’ll see you when the weather improves.