Information, tips offered for cold weather fire safety
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
With the arrival of cold weather, certain seasonal fire risks begin to increase. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2009 U.S. fire departments responded to 58,900 home structure fires that involved heating equipment, that’s 18 percent of all residential fires reported, with associated losses of 480 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries and $1.1 billion in property damage.
From 2005 through 2009, the leading factor contributing to home heating fires, 26 percent, was failure to clean, principally creosote, from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.
Nearly half, 49 percent, of all home-heating fires occurred in December, January and February in the 2005 to 2009 data; and the peak time of home heating fires was between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for one-third (32 percent) of home heating fires and four out of five (79 percent) of home heating fire deaths. A significant number of space heater fires started when the heater was too close to something that could catch fire; and improper fueling was a particular problem for kerosene heaters.
Harlem Township Division of Fire Chief Dale Fling culled the following cold weather fire safety tips from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and IAFC (International Association of Fire Chiefs) websites.
Supplemental Heating Devices
• Use and maintain supplemental heating devices in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.
• Do not leave supplemental heating devices unattended or turned on while you are sleeping.
• Provide all heating devices with at least three feet of clear space, away from beds, drapes, furniture and other combustible materials.
• Examine gas lines for punctures or splits. Check the connectors and valves for leaks.
• Leave space for air to circulate around other heat-producing appliances such as copy machines, coffee makers, and computers. Keep appliances away from anything that might catch fire. Do not stack books or papers on top of computer monitors.
• Designate someone to turn off or unplug all appliances at the end of the day.
Chimneys and Fireplaces
• Clean and maintain chimneys, fireplaces, and furnaces on a regular basis. Most fires in wood stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys occur because of a lack of regular cleaning, leading to the buildup of creosote (the residue of unburned fuel).
• Keep sparks and embers inside the fireplace with fire screens made of heat-tempered glass or sturdy metal.
• Burn dry, well-seasoned hard wood because it is the most efficient fuel.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms
• Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless and poisonous gas that is created when fuel burns incompletely
• If you don’t have smoke alarms, install them. Maintain them according to the manufacturer’s instructions, including installing new batteries.
• Install CO alarms in your home to provide you with an early warning of CO accumulation. Heating equipment that burns fuel is a potential source of carbon monoxide.
• Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms weekly to be sure they are working properly. Change the batteries in all alarms at least once a year.
Heat Tape and Heat Lamps
• Use heat tape only in locations deemed appropriate by the manufacturer.
• Make sure your heat tape has the label showing that a recognized testing laboratory lists it.
• Check for product recalls at < cpsc.gov >.
• Install equipment according to local codes and the manufacture’s instructions.
• Plug power cords only into outlets with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord.
• Do not position electric-powered equipment near water or where there is danger of water being spilled, to avoid serious risk of electric shock.
• Do not use or store flammable or combustible liquids near or in rooms with energized equipment, in order to avoid a vapor ignition and possible flash fire.
General Fire-Prevention and Safety Practices
• Have a family escape plan with a meeting place. Once you exit your home, DO NOT return. Too many people lose their lives going back into a burning home.
• If you use candles, make sure you use them in a safe environment in a fireproof container and away from children. Do not leave them unattended. If possible, consider using flame-less, battery operated candles.
• Consider getting a residential fire sprinkler installed. According to statistics, the risk of death by fire is reduced by 82 percent when smoke detectors are accompanied with residential fire sprinklers.
• Clean clothes dryer lint filters with each use and inspect dryer vent piping regularly.