Heating Safety Tips Offered

OSWEGO, NY – Did you remember to set your clocks back one hour before you went to bed Saturday night?

If you didn’t, go ahead, we’ll wait.

It’s also a good time to change the batteries in the smoke detectors in your home and make sure they’re in working order.

“The simple, yet powerful, act of changing the batteries in smoke alarms when you change the clock back can double a family’s chance of getting out of home fires alive,” according to Joe Perry, Oswego’s fire chief.

On average, two children die each day in home fires, he added.

“Over all, roughly 80% of home fire deaths in this country occur in homes without working smoke alarms, the fire chief pointed out. “Considering that residential fire deaths peak in winter months, it makes sense to change your smoke alarm batteries each and every fall.”

As cold weather approaches, people begin thinking about how they can heat their homes and not spend a fortune.

As fuel costs continue to soar, homeowners are exploring alternative sources of home heating.

The American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association recently released results of a survey showing the majority (79%) of Americans are concerned about the rising cost of heating their homes, and many will use an alternative heating source to reduce their bills this winter.

“Safety should be the number one priority when deciding on any type of alternative heating source,” according to Dr. Dennis Norfleet, public health director for Oswego County.

“Any time a different way of heating a home is used, the greater the chance of fire. People should be weary; it could cause a problem if they aren’t careful,” said Oswego’s First Assistant Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie. “We hope they educate themselves enough to be safe, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, they’re the experts.”

Currently, some of the more popular alternative sources of home heating are fireplaces, space heaters, wood-burning stoves, and kerosene heaters.

During the colder month, when people heat their homes, there’s a greater risk of death by fire or carbon monoxide poisoning, Dr. Norfleet said.

Fortunately, he added, most tragedies are preventable by following a few safety steps.

If people use alternative sources to reduce heating costs, it is critical they use devices that are new or in good working order, McCrobie said.

They should turn off units when they go to bed or leave the room, he noted.

Last year, the Onondaga-Oswego chapter of the Red Cross responded to 190 home fires.

“Home fires can be just as devastating as any other type of disaster,” said Maureen Perkins, director of chapter services of the Onondaga-Oswego chapter American Red Cross. “The Red Cross is here to help anyone affected by a home fire, but also to provide information that helps people prevent and stay safer in a home fire.”

Dr. Norfleet suggests homeowners install smoke alarms that are equipped with a battery back-up.

“Make sure that smoke alarms are on every level of the home as well as near every bedroom in the home. Test the alarms monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year,” he said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association reports, cooking and heating are the leading causes of home fires.

The survey revealed that 48% of American households will use an alternative heating source to reduce their bills this winter.

A third (36%) of people with fireplaces reported they never cleaned or inspected their chimneys. The survey also found 23% of respondents did not consider it essential to make sure someone is home when food is cooking on the stove.

“We have responded to many fires that were a result of unattended food left on a stove,” McCrobie said. “There have been several chimney fires as well. People simply have to pay attention to what they are doing. They need to give the chimney a good looking over before the weather gets bad. That’s less of a problem than a fire.”

“Purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm for your home,” Dr. Norfleet advises. “Make sure it is marked with the Underwriter’s Laboratory safety listing. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for placement in your home.”

Weather-related power failures are a fact of life in this region, he added.

“A generator will provide the backup electricity you need to get through the crisis. But any fuel-fired device can be a carbon monoxide hazard. Be sure to place permanently installed generators away from your house so that engine-exhaust gases, including CO, do not migrate back into the living space,” he cautioned. “Do not operate any portable generator inside of a building, particularly your home, where exhaust gases can be drawn inside. This includes garages, basements, or other confined spaces around your house.”

Among the safety tips offered by NFPA and the American Red Cross are:

Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave, even for a short time, turn off the stove.

Give space heaters space by keeping them at least three feet from anything that can burn. Turn off heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

Don’t use the kitchen oven or stove top to heat your home. This can be a fire hazard as well as a source of toxic fumes.

If you use supplemental portable electric heaters, never use an extension cord. Plug them directly into the electrical outlet.

Before purchasing a portable heater, make sure it has “tip switches.” These switches are designed to automatically shut off the heating unit in the event it tips over.

Don’t burn outdoor barbecue charcoal in your home — not even in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. It releases odorless, but toxic, carbon monoxide fumes and can cause death!

Children should not have access to portable heaters, electric or fuel powered.

For additional fire safety tips visit www.redcross.org/homefires

County residents that need assistance with winter fuel costs can contact the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).

For information on HEAP, residents age 60 and older may contact the Oswego County Office for the Aging at 349-3484 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3484.

Others should contact the Oswego County Department of Social Services at 963-5000 or 1-888-963-5377.

For additional winter safety tips, call the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3547 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3547, or visit http://oswegocounty.com/health.shtml