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From the Fire Marshal’s Office: Winter Safety Tips

The winter months are generally the deadliest times of the year for home fires, due to the increased use of alternative heating sources. Home heating is second only to cooking as a cause of home fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Orange Fire Marshal’s Office suggest the following safety tips to avoid potential dangers from fires, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and power outages that are associated with heating sources.

Always follow the manufacturer’s use and maintenance directions for alternative heating sources. Do it yourself installation of fireplaces and wood stoves can lead to fires and injuries. Have gas/oil room heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, inserts and pellet stoves installed by a qualified and insured professional. Only burn dry, seasoned hardwood. Storms have resulted in many downed trees and branches. DO NOT burn this debris in your fireplace or woodstove. Use paper or kindling wood, NOT a flammable liquid, to start the fire. Artificial logs should not be used in a wood stove. Have heating equipment and chimneys inspected every year. Chimneys should be checked for cracks, blockages and leaks. Have it cleaned and repaired as needed to prevent creosote buildup which is the number one cause of chimney fires. Be sure the damper is open before using a fireplace. Use a screen or glass door on working fireplaces to prevent sparks and embers from flying into the room. Once the fire is out, allow the ashes to cool, then place them in a metal container with a lid and store outside at a safe distance from the home. Make sure fuel burning equipment is vented to the outside, that the venting is unobstructed and that the exit is properly sealed around the vent.

Be sure combustible items are at least three feet from portable space heaters. Purchase only electric space heaters that bear the mark of an independent test laboratory, such as UL, and are equipped with a thermostat, an automatic shutoff switch and have a guard around the heating element. Only plug electric heaters into outlets with sufficient capacity and do not use extension cords. Turn off and unplug space heaters before leaving a room or going to sleep. Never leave one unattended. Use the proper grade of the required fuel in liquid fueled space heaters. Keep them properly adjusted and serviced. Never use gasoline in a heater that is not approved for its use and only refuel in a ventilated area when the heater is cool. Clean up spills immediately. A space heater should be placed on a level, non-combustible surface. Never use space heaters to dry items or as a storage area. The Orange Fire Marshal’s Office does not recommend kerosene heaters. They must be used with extreme caution as kerosene is a flammable fuel.

Do not use an oven or range to heat a home. Always use a gas or charcoal grill outdoors and at least 10 feet from combustibles and never inside the house or in a closed garage. This is a fire hazard as well as a carbon monoxide risk.

Power Outage Precautions include stocking up on batteries, flashlights, portable radios, canned foods, manual can openers, bottled water and blankets. Use flashlights instead of candles to avoid a possible fire hazard. Have candles lit only when someone is awake and is in the room. If the home has no heat, run water at a trickle to help prevent pipes from freezing and bursting if outside temperatures are below freezing for an extended period of time. Keep thermostats at a minimum of 55 degrees F (60 degrees F during a hard freeze of 15 degrees F or below) to prevent frozen pipes and water damage. Lower temperatures can lead to bursting pipes. Kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors below sinks should be left open to allow air to warm the pipes. Store perishable food in the snow or in an unheated outside building when the power is out. A portable generator should never be used indoors or in an attached garage. Use outdoors in a well-ventilated, dry location away from windows, doors, and vent openings. The generator should be protected from direct exposure to rain or snow. Do not connect a portable electric generator directly to the home’s wiring, plug it into an electrical outlet in the home or garage. Use a heavy duty outdoor-rated power cord with sufficient wire gauge to handle the electrical load. Appliances can be connected to the cord as long as they are in the wattage range that the generator can supply. Do not store gasoline for alternative heating sources indoors.

For fire and burn prevention, be aware that the outer surfaces of wood stoves and fireplaces get hot enough to cause burns. Portable liquid fuel and electric space heaters can also get hot on the outside and although newer models have grills covering the heating element, one could reach through the grill and be seriously burned. For increased protection against burn injuries, one can install a temporary safety gate around wood stoves, fireplaces, and space heaters. Maintain a three (3) foot clearance between combustibles and heating equipment. Clear all debris from dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace vents. When warming a vehicle, move it out of the garage. Do not run a fueled engine indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not blocked. Constantly supervise children around all heating sources. Never leave a child unattended in a room with an operating heating source. Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of the home and in all sleeping areas, including those with futons, daybeds etc. A CO alarm should be placed on each floor.

The installation of any fuel burning equipment requires a permit from both the Orange Fire Marshal’s Office and the Building Department. Once a permit is submitted, a review of the equipment, piping and planned installation is conducted for compliance and appropriateness of use. After the work is completed, a field inspection is held to ensure that all regulations have been met and the installation was done in accordance with the submitted plans. If you have any questions about fire safety and prevention, wish to obtain a permit, or to receive free Carbon Monoxide alarms, please contact the Orange Fire Marshal’s Office at (203) 891-4711, Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4:30 or visit the website at www.orangefiremarshal.com.

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