The chill in the air brings thoughts of fire safety

  • Published
  • By Asst. Chief Tom Woods
  • Department of Defense Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division
Now that cold weather has arrived, we need to prepare for the winter ahead and take a few simple safety precautions to prevent fire from striking our homes.

In the United States, more than 5,000 people die each year from injuries sustained in fires. Most of these deaths occur during the winter months. The reasons often include carelessly using home-heating equipment and storing flammable and combustible materials improperly.

With this in mind, the Fire Protection Division urges you to take a closer look at any portable heating appliances that may be in use in your workplaces and at home. Heaters should be in good condition and used in the manner in which they were intended. Some of the requirements for use of portable heaters in the workplace are:
· Use of portable heaters must be approved by the unit commander and the Fire Department, and civil engineering must ensure the electric circuitry is adequate.
· Heaters must be approved for each location. If a heater is moved, it must go through the whole approval process again.
· The use of heaters fueled by flammable or combustible liquids is prohibited in the workplace.
· Heaters must be labeled by an approved testing laboratory such as Factory Mutual (FM) or Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
· Portable heaters must be equipped with an automatic tip-over switch to shut the unit off if it is knocked over.
· Heaters must have a minimum of 18 inches of clearance from all objects on all sides.
· Do not plug portable heaters into modular furniture. Most system furniture does not have electrical wiring designed to handle the eletrical load of a space heater.
· Portable heaters are prohibited in health care facilities. The only exception is non-sleeping staff and employee areas. The heating elements are limited to producing no more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit when used in these areas. (Check the manufacturer's label).

In the home, be aware of the following:
· Change or clean the furnace filters as necessary, whenever dust buildup occurs.
· Do not use rooms and closets where the furnace is located as storage areas. Do not place objects over or around the thermostat if that item might block the flow of air to the thermostat.
· Do not use portable heaters in an area such as a garage that might have a buildup of gasoline or other flammable vapors.
· Portable heaters that use flammable liquids for fuel, such as kerosene heaters, present a very dangerous asphyxiation hazard. These heaters must be used in strict accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Never use fuels other than those recommended by the manufacturer.

In addition to the above tips, make sure all your smoke detectors are fully operational by testing them on a monthly basis. Have a family evacuation plan in place, and practice that plan before an emergency occurs. Don't wait until you have a fire to find out that the plan doesn't work. Never leave a fire unattended. Keep an extinguisher or a supply of sand on hand to control flames if they get too large. Read the instructions on how to use your extinguisher properly, and never apply water to a hot stove or chimney as thermal shock may cause damage.

To get assistance with this, or any other fire safety issue, please call the Edwards Fire Protection Division's Technical Services Section at 277-3643 or 277-3124.