Winter Safety Education

by Chris Furstenau

Now is a great time to educate the citizens of your community about some safety concerns that are unique to the winter months. Some of them may not apply to all areas of the country namely the states where fireplaces are obsolete but the other tips shared here can be beneficial to everyone. No new information is shared here, either. These are a few reminders to share with people who come through your open houses.

Legible House Numbers

When people call the fire department, they expect a rapid response to mitigate the emergency or crisis they are facing. Now that winter is upon us, it is getting dark earlier and earlier everyday. How many times have we struggled to find a specific house because the numbers aren’t legible from the street? The numbers are old and faded, they are covered by trees and shrubs, or they are located in an obscure location, all of which can cost precious time when responding to an emergency. House numbers should be large enough to read from the street, they should be in number form as opposed to word form (e.g., “2” instead of “two”), and they should be illuminated. Most hardware stores sell solar-powered landscape lights that just need to be assembled and placed; no electrical work is required. Ask residents to check out their homes from the street to see if a perfect stranger–the fire department–could locate and read the numbers quickly in the dark.

This problem can be fixed quickly. In many places around the country where snow and ice are prevalent, our response times will be a little slower just because of the slippery road conditions. If we can save some time by not having to search for hidden address numbers, we have just helped our cause.

Snow and Ice Removal

Remind residents to have their sidewalks and driveways cleared off. In our jurisdiction, it is not uncommon for snow and ice to be piled high enough so that it takes two to three minutes to get from our trucks to the front door. When people are informed that brain cells die after six minutes without oxygen, it really impresses upon them the importance of having quick access to the patient or victim we are called to help. An extra couple of minutes can go a long way in creating a positive outcome to an incident. This problem is easy and inexpensive to fix, too.

Access to Fire Hydrants

Another common obstacle in winter emergencies is the lack of access to fire hydrants. Here again, the solution costs nothing but a few minutes of residents’ time. If every homeowner, tenant, and landlord would maintain the area around the fire hydrant on their property, damage to property would be drastically reduced. An all-too-common tale is the one of the house that burned to the ground because the closest fire hydrant was buried under snow, frozen solid, or–worse yet–packed with debris. Many times, this is a water department, not a fire department, issue. Ask residents who have a fire hydrant on their property to make sure they remove the snow around it. Snow plows will bury them while plowing the streets. Kidsl bury them while shoveling the snow for their parents. When urging people to maintain the fire hydrants, some will say, “There isn’t a hydrant in my front yard.” Politely explain that the fire department will use the hydrant nearest to the burning house and that it would be unwise to assume that the hydrant has been maintained. Ask the homeowner, “If your house were on fire, would you be comfortable with the accessibility of the nearest hydrant?”–in other words, do they trust their neighbor to clear the nearest hydrant?

If snow is not an issue in the community you serve, maybe there is another type of obstacle. We have all seen hydrants blocked with landscaping, parked cars, shoes stuck in the connections, missing caps, and so forth.

Other Hazards

If winter means fireplaces and chimneys are used regularly in your community, stress to your customers the importance of having a clean chimney. If you ask a resident the last time he had the chimney inspected and he responds, “I don’t know,” chances are good that it is time for a sweep. Chimney fires can be easily prevented.

Let’s not forget the more common winter fire hazards, such as problems with portable space heaters, holiday decorations and lights, and poorly maintained furnaces. These emergencies can be prevented by using common sense, employing safe practice, and reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions. Helping people help themselves keeps everyone safe, which is our number one job.

Chris Furstenau, a member of the fire service for 10 years, is a firefighter/paramedic with the City of Livonia (MI) Fire Department, where he has served for the past six years. He is a CERT instructor and is heavily involved in public education for the citizens of Livonia.

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