If you got through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s without setting your house on fire, good for you.
Between decorations draped over flickering candles, dry Christmas trees, home-cooked feasts and wrapped packages a little too close to the fireplace, you dodged a very risky holiday season.
But now you’re in the peak month for deaths and injuries from residential fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
With temperatures expected to dip below zero, many folks will turn to space heaters, fireplaces or wood stoves to keep their tootsies warm. And wherever fossil fuels are burned, flames and carbon monoxide are a byproduct.
In foul weather, you might also be using your stovetop and oven more often, and kitchens remain the No. 1 source of residential fires.
Also, thanks to the ice and snow and slush, we’ve also entered the peak time for slips and falls, added Macedonia Fire Chief Tim Black.
Especially for seniors, it’s a good season to “stay home, stay inside, and stay safe,” Black said.
There is good news.
State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers announced this week that the 103 fire-related deaths that occurred in Ohio last year were the fewest in 27 years.
Flowers attributed the reduction in fire fatalities to, among other things, fire safety education.
So to build on that educational effort, Chief Black offered some tips for getting through this month, this winter and this year.
Have your furnace cleaned and inspected yearly.
While that’s common knowledge for some homeowners, it will come as a shock to many others.
Black said it’s not unusual for him to ask a resident when their furnace was last inspected, only to get a response like, “Oh, the furnace was put in when Billy was 4 years old, and now he’s 43.”
A clean furnace with filters changed monthly will help keep the house warm, reducing the need for alternative heat sources while also reducing the likelihood of a carbon monoxide emergency.
Homeowners tend to put off having their chimneys inspected and cleaned. Creosote, which builds inside the chimney from burning wood, can ignite.
Only burn seasoned dry firewood, Black said. Wet wood creates more creosote.
Having a chimney sweep inspect your fireplace can catch other problems as well, Black said.
Last year, a local homeowner lost his house because a brick in the chimney had become displaced, sending heat and flames into the walls and ceiling.
Don’t use them, Black advises.
It’s tempting to want to supplement the furnace with a propane- or kerosene-fueled space heater, but they create carbon monoxide and, presumably, you’re using them in a room where the windows aren’t open to vent them.
“If you have to use them, use them only when you’re there, and not around children. Follow the instructions, and make sure they have a safety device that will shut it off if it’s flipped over. Don’t place them closer than three feet to anything that can burn,” Black said.
Electric space heaters don’t put out carbon monoxide, so they’re a bit safer, but they can also ignite curtains or bedding, so make sure they are far from anything flammable, Black noted.
So you’re going out and you want to warm up your car first. You start the engine and slip back inside.
Big mistake, Black said.
Even if you remembered to open the garage door — and a lot of people don’t — a breeze might be blowing the car’s exhaust back into the garage, where it doesn’t take much for that carbon monoxide to seep into your shuttered home.
“If you’re going to let your car run a while, pull it out of the garage first,” Black said.
There are two kinds of smoke detectors: One that is triggered by traditional smoke and fire, and another that can pick up a smoldering burn that a regular smoke detector won’t notice right away.
You can buy them separately, or look for a dual detector that mentions “photoelectric” and “ionization” on the packaging, Black said.
Place them on every level of the house, and outside sleeping areas.
Make sure you change the batteries every year. The International Association of Fire Chiefs has suggested making a habit of swapping out the old battery every November when you set your clocks back for daylight saving time.
In his annual report, State Marshal Flowers said many of last year’s fire-related fatalities occurred in homes with no working smoke detector.
Also, put a carbon monoxide detector (also called a CO monitor) on each level of your home.
Black said if the CO monitor goes off, don’t hesitate to call your fire department. Often, it will turn out to be a faulty reading, but Black said don’t take the chance.
“We’d much rather find a faulty detector than CO, but don’t be afraid to call,” he said.
If you’re experiencing dizziness or illness, leave the house, but don’t open the windows if you can resist.
“It’s harder for us to isolate the problem” if the CO has escaped outside by the time firefighters arrive, Black said.
• If you have a fire hydrant in front of your house, keep it clear of snow. Street plows can bury them, and firefighters can lose precious minutes looking for one in an emergency.
• Make sure your house number is visible. If it’s painted on a rock in the front yard and covered by snow, or tacked onto a garage door that is currently in its up position, emergency crews will have trouble finding you.
• Be extra careful getting the mail, shoveling the drive, or walking outside in general. If you slip and fall and have trouble getting up or calling for help, frostbite might only be the beginning of your problems.
• Don’t leave your animals outside. The cold is just as dangerous to them.
Black had one more piece of advice: “If you have a senior living next to you, check on them. Make sure they have heat and food and they’re doing OK.”