By Fire Chief Chris Martin
It seems like summer just ended and we went right into winter overnight; the cold weather is certainly here. The Sterling Heights Fire Department wants to make sure everyone stays safe this winter and would like to provide some heating safety tips. According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating malfunctions cause roughly 16% of fires in the home and accounted for 470 deaths and nearly 1,500 injuries from 2009-2013, so it is very important to consider these safety tips:
Keep anything that can burn, like drapes, decorations, furniture, or combust, like fuel, spray cans and paint, at least 3 feet away from all heating appliances, like furnaces, portable space heaters, fireplaces or wood stoves. Sparks can jump and cause fires wherever they land. Nearby material can act as kindling for the ember, fueling the fire.
This December, the Rossen Reports showed just how quickly a fire can spread in a demonstration with a space heater, blanket and sofa. In mere minutes, the room fills with thick, black smoke and the flames consume the area.
Remember to turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed. Space heaters cause 25,000 home fires a year, and 6,000 emergency room visits, according to the Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety group. Never overload power strips or outlets, space heaters should be plugged directly into an outlet, do not use an extension cord. A homeowner in Ypsilanti Township damaged her home a couple of weeks ago using a space heater.
Have a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Make sure there is always a glass door or mesh screen in front of your fireplace. Be aware these gates can get hot and cause burns.
Never, ever use your oven or stove to heat your home. A couple in Burton, Michigan died last year in a house fire started by their stove that they were using for heat. Please do not try to heat your homes like this!
Have your heating equipment and chimneys (if you burn wood) cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional each year. Build up can accumulate along the inside walls of the chimney creating potential for a dangerous chimney fire.
Do not store gas powered equipment, or gasoline in your home. All it takes is a simple spark or pilot light from a water heater or furnace being ignited to start a fire. A malfunction while lighting a propane heater in this Michigan home caused it to quickly go up in flames, leaving the homeowners with nothing.
Never leave burning candles unattended. Consider using battery-operated candles for decoration instead.
Heavy snowstorms and ice storms frequently cause power outages. When this occurs, the situation calls for extra vigilance in home safety. Be careful using generators; make sure they are well vented to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Like fire, carbon monoxide can be a deadly threat, the odorless, invisible gas claims the lives of about 400 people annually according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and sickens many, many more. Carbon monoxide poisoning is believed to have taken the lives of an entire family last year in Michigan.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from home appliances and heating systems, it can also come from poorly maintained chimneys. The chimney and chimney connector act as a furnace's exhaust system. If debris is blocking the chimney, carbon monoxide can accumulate inside the house, putting everyone inside at risk. Keep a gate on the top of your chimney to prevent debris from falling in or to prevent animals from building nests in the chimney. It is important to keep the gate cleared before you start a fire in the fireplace.
As with any season, your home must be equipped with properly functioning smoke detectors. They are the first line of defense in any house fire, regardless of the cause, and they save lives. Smoke detectors should be on each level of the home, including the basement. They should be in each bedroom and outside each sleeping area. The best smoke alarms are wired together so that they all go off if one goes off. All batteries in smoke detectors should be replaced at least once a year, regardless if they are hard wired. The exception is for new smoke alarms with non-replaceable 10-year batteries. All smoke detectors are only good for 10 years; please replace detectors that are over ten years old. Check the back of the smoke detector for the manufacture date, detectors manufactured before 1999 have a 4-5 serial number and no date printed, obviously these need to be replaced stat!
Be safe and enjoy the winter!