Safety Tips from the Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council
Winter Safety Tips
December, January and February are the leading months for home fires in the United States. On average, more than one-third of home fire deaths occur during winter months. Most home heating fires are caused by human error and can be prevented. The Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council encourages you to review the following guidelines.
- Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition. A yearly inspection by a qualified specialist is recommended.
- Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified.
- Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required.
- Check the flue pipes and pipe seams. Are they well supported? Are they free of holes and cracks? Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak.
- Is the chimney solid? No cracks or loose bricks should be visible. All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.
- Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.
- Clean the furnace prior to use in the fall and change your filter monthly.
Wood stoves and fireplace
- Be sure the stove or fireplace is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36”) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support for protection.
- Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design and should be UL listed.
- Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned, especially if it has not been used for some time.
- Do not use a flammable liquid to start or accelerate any fire.
- Keep screens and doors closed especially around children.
- Always allow ashes to cool before removing them and never remove burning wood.
- Don’t close the damper until the fire is completely out.
- Always burn seasoned wood; never burn trash in the fireplace.
- Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shut off in case the heater is tipped over.
- Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper ventilation. Burning fuel (kerosene, coal or propane) produces deadly fumes.
- Use only the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that purpose.
- Keep kerosene or other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers, in well-ventilated storage areas, outside of the house.
- Never fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling. Use caution with cold fuel for it may expand in the tank as it warms up.
- Refueling should be done outside of the home (or outdoors).
- Keep young children safely away from space heaters, especially when they are wearing nightgowns or other loose clothing that can be easily ignited.
- When using a fuel-burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.
Before winter approaches, everyone should focus on preparation. Winterize your car early to avoid the long lines at service stations. Proper care and maintenance of your vehicle may avoid delays and costly repairs later. Most importantly, being prepared could save your life. The following items should be checked annually:
- Ignition system
- Cooling system
- Exhaust system
- Fuel system
- Heater and defroster
Even with proper vehicle maintenance, there is always the chance of becoming stranded. Prepare a survival kit and keep it in your car at all times. Each kit should include:
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Windshield scraper
- Paper towels
- Extra clothes
- Matches and candles
- Booster cables
- Sand or salt
- Non-perishable food and water
If stranded, don't leave the car unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Stay on the road if at all possible. Use the candles to keep warm. If you must use the vehicle heater, start the engine for short periods of time only and leave the window slightly open while the motor is running so carbon monoxide can escape.
Travel smart and drive defensively. Remember, unless your vehicle is equiped with an anti-lock braking system, when trying to stop your vehicle-pump the brakes instead of applying constant pressure to the brake pedal. If your vehicle is equiped with an anti-lock braking system pumping the brake pedal will defeat this system increasing your stopping distance. Please refer to your vehicles manual for verification and the correct procedure.
Plan your trip and always let someone know your travel plans, route and estimated time of arrival. If possible, don't drive alone. When traveling long distances, contact the highway patrol for road conditions. Use the radio often and keep it tuned to a station that has updates on weather and road conditions. Remember, preparation and smart traveling is the key to survival.
- Never try to thaw frozen water pipes with a blowtorch or open flame. Use hot water or a UL labeled device such as a hand held hair dryer for thawing.
- A faucet may be left slightly open to avoid pipes freezing.
- Don’t overexert yourself when removing snow. Take frequent rest breaks and make sure someone knows of your activity.
In addition to a working smoke detector on each level of the home, the Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department recommends that every home have a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide poisoning causes thousands of deaths each year because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless and often goes undetected until it’s too late.
Floyd Peoples, Chief Fire Marshal, Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department, 816-784-9100
Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council, 9550 W. 95th St., Overland Park, Kan. 66212