Stay safe during winter season

When bitter temperatures sweep in, so, too, does the risk of heat-related catastrophe.
Courtney Astolfi
Jan 11, 2014

 

Space heaters, furnaces, electric blankets and fireplaces all offer respite from the cold, but they also present their own unique hazards if used improperly.

Sandusky Fire Marshal Rudy Ruiz offered some tips on how to stay warm and safe this winter season.

FURNACES
Making sure a home’s furnace is properly maintained should be a top priority for residents during the winter months. A furnace that needs servicing can produce excess amounts of carbon monoxide — and with windows closed tight to keep out the chill, all that gas can build up inside a home.

Sandusky firefighters have already responded to several medical emergencies stemming from carbon monoxide this season, Ruiz said.    If residents experience dizziness, lightheadedness or headaches inside the house but feel better when they venture outside, they might be at-risk for high levels of carbon monoxide.

Ruiz stressed the importance of installing carbon monoxide detectors in the home.

“Feel free to give us a call. We’ll be happy to go out to your home if you think there’s a problem. We generally recommend getting your furnace checked out” Ruiz said.

SPACE HEATERS
When heat from the furnace just isn’t enough, people often turn to space heaters to make up the difference.

New space heaters almost always include a tip-over safety feature, which triggers the appliance to power off when it’s picked up or knocked over.

Older models present more of a danger, especially if they fall onto cloth or other flammable objects.

Ruiz recommends clearing a three-foot radius around the heater in case it tips over or safety features don’t kick in. He discourages residents from plugging space heaters into extension cords, or tucking cords underneath carpeting or rugs.

And for those who use kerosene heaters: be extra cautious when re-fueling. Spilled kerosene on the heater itself or on the floor could spark flames.

FIREPLACES
Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves have long been known to cause house fires during cold weather.

Ruiz underlined the need for clean, creosote-free chimneys — he recommends clearing debris from them annually.

If fireplaces or wood stoves are a main source of heat for a household, residents should also double-check the chimney flue to make sure it opens and closes properly. A flue that is stuck shut could lead to more creosote build-up, Ruiz said.

Additionally, be sure to burn clean, dry wood and never use trash to start a fire, Ruiz said.

BLANKETS
While Sandusky firefighters rarely see fires associated with electric blankets, they still pose a risk if used improperly.

Even if they have not been used repeatedly and often over the years, the wiring on old blankets could still fray and spark. Take a glance at power cords to make sure they’re still intact before plugging the blanket in, Ruiz said.

OVENS
Do not use stoves or ovens to supplement other heat sources, Ruiz said.

“Sometimes you’ll get to a point when the furnace is constantly running, so people will use their ovens or stoves — but that’s not a good idea” Ruiz said.

Cooking appliances are not designed to heat a home and present a host of dangers when used to do so.

VEHICLES
And for those times when residents must brave wintry conditions and leave the warmth of home, they should be sure to carry an emergency kit in case of car trouble, Ruiz said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends carrying the following supplies:

Shovel, windshield scraper, flashlight, extra hats, socks and gloves, blankets, water and snack food, first aid kit (including necessary medications), pocket knife, matches, tow chain, road salt, booster cables and emergency flares. A battery-powered radio could also come in handy.