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December 14, 2007
Oswego County Fire Coordinator Recommends
Safety Tips to Prevent Fires
Several residential fires have devastated the holidays for Oswego County families recently, and County Fire Coordinator John Hinds urges people to use extra caution while operating alternate heating devices this winter.
“Within five days, five homes in Oswego County have been heavily damaged by fires,” Hinds said. “These include two in the Town of Hastings, one in Parish, one in Palermo, and one in Mexico.
“The home in Parish was fully involved in flames upon the fire department's arrival,” the fire coordinator continued. “Causes for these fires are still under investigation.”
Hinds noted the fires have had devastating effects. “Three families with small children are without a home, and one of the families is that of a Mexico firefighter,” he said. “This is sad any time of year, but particularly hard to see at this time of year with the holidays approaching. The Red Cross has been of great assistance during the past week,” he added.
Firefighters don't want to see the trend continue, and Hinds urged people to take steps now to prevent fires in their own homes.
“The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities have caused people to use secondary sources to save money,” he noted. “But heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires in the United States during the winter months. Most heating equipment fires start as a result of misuse or improper maintenance. And the results of these fires can potentially be deadly.
“It's very important for people to follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and use of wood stoves, kerosene heaters, electric space heaters, or other devices,” Hinds said. “You don't want to risk your family or lose your home. The risk of fire can be reduced if you take the proper precautions.”
Hinds encourages people to follow fire safety and prevention tips provided by the NFPA and the US Fire Administration. Here are some of the things you can do:
- If you own a wood stove, make sure it is installed properly. Any solid fuel heating unit, including wood stoves, must be inspected by a code enforcement officer prior to use.
- Use fireplaces, woodstoves, and furnaces properly and carefully, with good maintenance. “Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations,” if any portion or device on the unit is defective or damaged, have the appliance repaired before any further use Hinds said.
- Make sure woodstoves have adequate clearance (36 inches) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.
- Keep flammable items at least 3 feet away from heating equipment. “One of the most common causes of fires is improper clearance to combustibles,” the fire coordinator noted. Flammable and combustible items include carpets, clothing, curtains and furniture.
- Store kerosene and other flammable liquids in approved metal containers, in well ventilated storage areas, outside the house.
- Get furnaces and chimneys inspected once a year and cleaned or repaired if needed.
- Closely watch children and pets in rooms with heating equipment, and keep them safely away.
- Turn off portable space heaters when you get ready to sleep or if you leave the room.
“Get your chimney inspected and your furnace tuned up,” Hinds said. “Make sure you have a fireplace screen. If you're buying new heating equipment, always select products listed by an independent testing laboratory. Choose a qualified installer and follow all codes and manufacturers' instructions. Save the user's guide that comes with the heating equipment, so you can keep it properly maintained in the future.”
Extension cords are another source of trouble. “The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 3,300 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 others,” Hinds noted. “The most frequent causes of such fires are short circuits, overloading, damage, and/or misuse of extension cords.”
To prevent fires, Hinds said, “Use extension cords only when necessary and only on a temporary basis. Never place them under rugs, newspapers or clothing, and never string extension cords together.” When using an extension cord with a space heater, Hinds emphasized, people should use special, heavy duty extension cords that are approved for the application. Extension cords are also listed or approved by independent laboratories for specific uses.
Hinds also reminded residents that each home should have at least one working smoke alarm.
“Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home,” he said. “Test it monthly, keep it free of dust, and replace the batteries at least once a year.
“Preventing heating equipment fires is simple,” Hinds concluded. “Just keep these safety tips in mind, and you'll be on your way to a safer winter season.”
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