An unseasonably warm October has given way to a frigid November, and across St. Lawrence County and New York State the home-heating season is beginning in earnest.
The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) is reminding residents to take precautions during these cold winter months, as heating is one of the leading causes of residential fires. In particular, FASNY urges residents and landlords utilizing alternative home heating sources (such as wood burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces) to take extra care.
“Residents and landlords across the State are preparing for the cold, winter months, and it is important that they do so with an eye toward safety,” said FASNY President Ken Pienkowski. “While the use of space heaters and fireplaces is acceptable, safety guidelines must be followed. A high percentage of residential fires occur during the winter months, and a significant number of these fires are caused by home heating systems. Now is the time to ensure that homes and other buildings are ready for the months ahead.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there is a historically elevated risk of dying from fire during the winter season, with December, January and February generally being the deadliest months for fires. In addition to having properly operating smoke alarms, it is critical for homeowners to install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to detect production of potentially-lethal carbon monoxide by gas fireplaces, gas stoves, barbecues, and gas furnaces.
FASNY offers these safety tips when using the following heating systems:
Portable Space Heaters
• Never leave a portable space heater in a room unattended, and always follow manufacturer’s instructions for proper use and maintenance.
• Use space heaters for a limited time each day.
• Never connect a space heater to an outlet with an extension cord.
• Unplug the unit when not in use. Let it cool down prior to storing the unit.
• Keep a window ajar or the door open in a room where an unvented heater is in use.
• Never use heaters to dry clothing or other combustibles.
• Make sure the flue is open before using a fireplace for the first time this season.
Remove any and all obstructions from your chimney. Obstructions will cause carbon monoxide to back up into your home.
Never leave a fireplace unattended.
Chimneys and vents should be inspected and cleaned annually.
Take care when stoking a fire. Do not burn newspapers or trash in a fireplace - doing so may ignite a chimney fire or send flaming embers into your home, causing fire.
Gas or Electric Furnaces
• Check for a build-up of dust and dirt on heating elements for gas or electric furnaces. When turned on for the first time this season, there may be a burning smell and/or a light haze of smoke may occur. Neither the smell nor the smoke are harmful and will completely burn away after a few uses.
• However, if smoke emanating from the furnace turns black and the furnace starts to rumble, leave the building immediately, and call your local fire department.
• All heating units should be tuned up by a professional certified technician. Regular inspections and cleanings of your heating system help to ensure maximum efficiency during the winter months.
Coal and Wood Burning Stoves
• Use coal only if specifically approved by the stove manufacturer. Gasoline or other flammable liquids should never be used to start a wood fire.
Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
• Test your home smoke alarms at least once per month. Do this by pressing the “test” button on the unit.
• If your detectors are battery operated, check the batteries often to make sure the units are operational.
• If you do not have one already installed, install a carbon monoxide alarm to detect production of potentially lethal carbon monoxide by gas fireplaces, gas stoves, barbecues, gas furnaces.
• Use Daylight Saving Time as a bi-annual reminder to change your smoke alarm and CO alarm batteries twice a year.
For additional tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org.