By Tom Kiurski
As temperatures start dropping, firefighters must urge their citizens to be careful as they fire up furnaces, space heaters, and fireplaces. There were more than 45,000 home heating fires reported in the U.S. in 2002, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These fires caused 220 deaths, 990 injuries, and $449 million in direct property damage.
Starting with the main home heating system, it is important to maintain and inspect it at least once a year. Furnaces have filters, and they need to be cleaned or replaced. The furnace should have a three-foot area around it clear of combustibles in case of a malfunction.
If residents have a wood stove in the home, the chimney flues should be inspected at the start of each heating season and cleaned at least once a year. Only wood should be burned, and the wood stove should be placed on an approved stove board to protect the floor from too much heat.
Fireplaces also need some attention before citizens sit down in front of some crackling logs. Always suggest using a sturdy screen when burning a fire in the fireplace. Urge families to keep a watchful eye on the fire, and keep combustibles well away from the heat coming from the hearth. Children will try to wrap up in a blanket and lay too close to the fireplace to feel the heat. This can lead to potentially dangerous situations. Remind the groups you speak to about basic fire safety behaviors, such as “Stop, Drop and Roll” if clothes catch fire and “Crawl Low Under Smoke”.
Keep portable space heaters away from combustibles, and only operate them when an adult is in the room. A tip-over switch on some newer models will turn the heater off when tipped over and keep it off until it is turned upright. Keep heaters on the floor – not on furniture. Do not place cords under rugs or blankets, and be sure the plug fits snugly into the electrical outlet.
It’s also a good idea to prepare a winter storm plan. Have your families keep extra blankets on hand, and ensure that each member of the household has an extra warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat ,and water-resistant boots. Keep a flashlight and portable radio with extra batteries near the emergency supplies.
Review the safety tips with your firefighters who go out and talk to citizens on a regular basis. The ultimate goal is to make sure that each household and every resident pitches in to keep the cold weather season a little safer.
Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.