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Commissioner Oxendine’s Safety Tips for Winter

As the winter months come upon us and the temperature begins to plummet, there is nothing like coming in from the cold, wrapping yourself in your favorite blanket and watching the snow fall outside your window while sipping a cup of hot cocoa. Maybe you'll turn on a space heater for extra heat, or use your fireplace or wood stove to warm the room.

What most people don't realize is that heating equipment is the biggest fire culprit from December through January, and the third leading cause of fire deaths in American homes. The heating equipment itself is not our chief concern; rather human error is involved in nearly all home heating fires in the U.S. - fires that are preventable.

Correct installation, maintenance, fueling and operation of portable and space heaters, as well as safely arranging household items around them, greatly reduces your risk of experiencing a home heating fire. Common mistakes that too often turn deadly include failing to clean chimneys; placing portable or other space heaters too close to furniture, bedding, or clothing; and improper fueling and venting of fueled heating devices.

Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires. The estimated 68,400 home heating fires in 1995 (the latest year for which data is available) killed 429 people, and caused just more than 1,800 civilian injuries and more than a half billion dollars in property damage.

Special Advice for Kerosene Heaters, Fireplaces and Wood Stoves
If you are considering buying a portable kerosene heater, be sure to check with your local building department first to find out if it is legal in your community. Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel in a portable kerosene heater, the wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment's design limits and cause a serious fire.

If your home has a working fireplace or wood stove, prior to the start of every heating season your chimney should be inspected by a professional for proper installation, cracks, blockages, leaks, or creosote build up. Creosote, a chemical substance that forms when wood burns, builds up in chimneys and can cause a chimney fire if not removed through cleaning. With this in mind, have the chimney cleaned if necessary and always be sure to open the flue for adequate ventilation when using the fireplace. Furthermore, protect your home and your family by using a sturdy fireplace screen when burning fires, and remember to burn only wood. Never burn paper or pine boughs, because those embers can float out the chimney and ignite your roof or a neighboring home.

Note: Always install and maintain all heating devices according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Vents and Chimneys
ALL FUELED HEATERS must be vented to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide build-up in your home. Creosote and carbon deposits, caused by inefficient combustion in fireplaces and wood stoves, can coat chimney flues and pose a fire hazard. Have your chimney inspected by a professional before each heating season and have it cleaned, if necessary. Unusually high concentrations of chimney deposits could mean your fireplace or wood stove is not burning efficiently and should be inspected for safety. If you use a wood stove, have the flues and chimney connections inspected and cleaned regularly. Consider installing a spark arrester on top of any chimney that vents a solid-fuel stove or fireplace.
Give Space Heaters Space
KEEP ALL COMBUSTIBLE materials away from portable and space heaters. Place all space heaters at least three feet (one meter) away from furniture, walls, curtains, or anything else that burns. Turn off space heaters when you leave home or go to bed.
Liquid Fuel Safety
IF YOUR SPACE HEATER BURNS A LIQUID FUEL, such as kerosene, let the heater cool down before refueling it. Adding fuel to a hot heater can cause the fumes to ignite. Refuel your heaters outdoors where spills won't present a fire hazard and in a well-ventilated area away from structures. Use only the fuel recommended by your heater's manufacturer. Never use substitutes or a lower grade fuel. Never put gasoline in any space heater.
Gas Fueled Heaters
CHECK VENTS PERIODICALLY to make sure they are not blocked. Never install unvented gas heaters in bedrooms or bathrooms. Carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels in any small, enclosed space.
Wood or Coal Stoves
PLACE AN APPROVED stove board under wood or coal stoves to protect the floor from heat and stray embers.
Electric Heaters
INSPECT ELECTRIC HEATER cords for cracks or other damage and have an electrician replace frayed, cracked, or damaged cords. If the cord overheats while the unit is in use, have the heater inspected and serviced.
FIRE SAFETY TIPS

Smoke Detectors Give Early Warnings
Install smoke detectors on every level of your home, including the basement, and outside every sleeping area. (If you sleep with the door closed, install one inside the sleeping area as well.) Test your detectors at least once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.

Smoke Detectors Do Not Last Forever; If a Detector is 10 Years Old, Replace It
Escape Plans Save Lives
Every household should have an escape plan. Draw a floor plan of your home and make sure every member of your household knows at least two ways out of each room. Decide on a meeting place outside where all household members will meet after they escape the building in the event of fire. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year.

Crawl Low Under Smoke

If you encounter smoke while escaping a burning building, use an alternate exit. Smoke and toxic fumes rise with heat, so the air will be cleaner near the floor. If you must exit through smoke, crawl on your hands and knees, keeping your head 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) above the floor.

Get Out and Stay Out

Once you have a left a burning building, do not go back inside for any reason. Call the fire department from a neighbor's phone or an alarm box. If someone is trapped inside the building, tell the firefighters.

PREVENTING HEATING EQUIPMENT FIRES
When purchasing new heating equipment, be sure to select products that have been tested and approved by an independent testing laboratory. Install and maintain heating equipment correctly, and be sure it complies with local fire and building codes. Here are more tips to remember:

WHEN YOU USE your fireplace, protect your home from sparks by using a fire screen made of sturdy metal or heat-tempered glass. Burn only seasoned wood - never rubbish - in your fireplace. Be sure that dampers are in working order and never leave fires unattended - especially in an area used by children or pets.
Wood Stoves
Be sure that your wood or coal stove bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory and meets local fire codes. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for proper installation, use, and maintenance. Chimney connections and chimney flues should be inspected at the beginning of each heating season and cleaned periodically. Follow the same safety rules for wood stoves as you would for space heaters. Burn only wood, and be sure the wood stove is placed on an approved stove board to protect the floor from heat and hot coals. Check with your local fire department and local code officials before having your wood stove installed.
Portables and Other Space Heaters
Portables and space heaters can be either electric or fueled by gas, liquid fuel (kerosene), or solid fuel (wood or coal). All types must be placed at least 36 inches (1 meter) away from anything that can burn, including wallpaper, bedding, clothing, pets and people. Never leave space heaters operating when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep. Do not leave children or pets unattended with space heaters, and be sure everyone understands that drying clothing or placing combustibles over heaters is a fire hazard. If you have an electric space heater, check each season for fraying or splitting wires and overheating. Have all problems repaired by a professional before operating the space heater.
Portable Kerosene Heaters
If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel, because the wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment's design limits. When refueling, always turn off the heater and let it cool down before adding fuel. Wipe up any spills promptly. If you are considering a kerosene heater, be sure to check with your local fire department before purchasing to find out if it is legal in your community. Store the kerosene away from heat or open flame in a container approved by the local fire department, and be sure it is clearly marked with the fuel name.
Fireplaces
WHEN YOU USE your fireplace, protect your home from sparks by using a fire screen made of sturdy metal or heat-tempered glass. Be sure that dampers are in working order and never leave fires unattended - especially in an area used by children or pets. Have your chimney inspected by a professional prior to the start of every heating season and cleaned if necessary. Creosote, a chemical substance that forms when wood burns, builds up in chimneys and can cause a chimney fire if not properly cleaned. Always protect your home and your family by using a sturdy screen when burning fires. Remember to burn only seasoned wood in your fireplace - never rubbish, paper or pine boughs - which can float out the chimney and ignite your roof or a neighboring home. Never use flammable liquids in a fireplace. If you are purchasing a factory-built fireplace, select one listed by a testing laboratory, and have it installed according to local codes.

Note: Always install and maintain all heating devices according to the manufacturer's instructions.
1/10/2002 CHECKLIST FOR SAFE HEATING

Following is a checklist for homeowners to reduce their risk of fire in the home. Cut out the list and post it on your refrigerator as a handy reminder!

DO YOU:

 Have your fireplace or wood stove chimney and chimney connectors inspected at the start of the heating season and cleaned, if necessary?
 Move anything that can burn (i.e., furniture, bedding, clothing, pets, people) at least three feet (one meter) from your heater, fireplace or wood stove?
 Turn off your portable or space heater before leaving the room?
 Keep your children and pets safely away from your portable or space heater?
 Read the manufacturer's instructions before operating your heater?
 Check your electric space heater for fraying or splitting wires, or overheating, and have all problems repaired by a professional before operating the heater?
 Safely vent fueled heaters, such as portable kerosene and gas-fueled space heaters, to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
 Turn off your portable kerosene heater and allow it to cool down before refueling, and wipe all spills promptly during refueling?
 Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to refuel your kerosene heater?
 Select new heating equipment that bears the mark of an independent testing laboratory?
 Ensure your heating equipment complies with local fire and building codes (i.e., is your wood stove sitting on an approved stove board to protect the floor from heat and coals)?

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