As we move into the holiday season temperatures will drop causing people to look for ways to heat their homes and stay warm. Before turning on appliances or starting a fire safety should be kept at the forefront.
“Usually when you turn the heater on in the fall for the first time you are going to smell that burned smell. It is that dust burning off of the heating element. That is not anything to worry about when you start the heater up for the first of the year,” Waxahachie Fire Department Lt. Matt Dorsey said. “ It is recommended to clean and inspect your central heating system every year. Something people need to be aware about is that if they have a gas-fired furnace in their house they need to have a carbon monoxide detector somewhere in their house.”
Dorsey said if a gas-fired appliance in your home has a malfunction, the carbon monoxide detector would alert residents to the colorless and odorless gas that can cause asphyxiation and death. When installing a CO detector in is recommended to install it at waist level or near the floor, because carbon monoxide is heavier than air and will settle near the floor, Dorsey advised, adding if it is a combination smoke and CO detector, it needs to be installed on the wall near ceiling but not on the ceiling.
“Just like a regular smoke detector you change the batteries out twice a year. You test them monthly. That means walking up and pushing the test button. One of the things that you have to be aware of with a carbon monoxide detector is that if it alarms, you need shut off what gas appliance you have, open as many windows and doors as you can and get out of the house. Then dial 9-1-1,” Dorsey said. “Another thing with carbon monoxide detectors is depending on the model, they may have to be replaced. Once it has sensed carbon monoxide some can be reset and re-calibrated by the owner. Some are basically one and done.”
Another device that people use to heat their home is a fireplace. Before having a fire the chimney needs to be swept each year, Dorsey said, which helps to remove soot and creosote buildup.
“If you are burning wood in it, the build up of creosote can be dangerous. So you want to get it cleaned once a year before you use it,” Dorsey said. “I have been on quite a few (chimney fires) since I have been here. It is usually because of two reasons. One they didn’t get it cleaned and the creosote is building up inside the chimney. The creosote is just left over particles of smoke and builds up and builds up. Eventually if it builds up enough, it will actually ignite inside the chimney.”
Dorsey said the second reason that chimney fires happen is that people will use real wood in a gas fireplace, which it is not designed for. Dorsey added that it is important to get the fireplace inspected to see if there are any holes or cracks in the chimney, where embers could spread fire into the walls or attic space.
Areas that need to be inspected include the chimney, fireplace and the flue, Dorsey said, adding that an inspection will show areas that need to be repaired before it can be used safely again. It will also spot areas where animals may have built nests in the flue, making it unsafe to use, he said.
Along with central heating systems and fireplaces people use space heaters to keep their homes warm. In 2010, home heating equipment was involved in an estimated 57,100 reported home structure fires, 490 civilian deaths, 1,530 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association website.
“The biggest thing with portable heaters is to keep them three feet away form anything that is farmable. If they are electric you want to make sure if you have to use an exertion cord, which is not recommended, that it is highly rated, not damaged and not plugged into an outlet that is not rated to draw that kind of electricity,” Dorsey said. “It is always recommended to plug into the wall if it electric. Using a smaller cord there is a potential for a failure to happen.”
Dorsey recommended that people use a portable heater that is designed for indoor use. Gas heaters produce carbon monoxide and are rated to be used in a well-ventilated area, he said and encouraged resident not to heat their home using the oven or stove top.
Between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Eve in 2010, the American Red Cross in the Dallas-Fort Worth area responded to 157 house and apartment fires, helped 508 displaced people and spent nearly $100,000 in the recovery efforts.
“Be aware of how much (the heater) is drawing from that outlet. If you have an outlet that is warm to the touch or constantly tripping breakers, call an electrician to come out and look at it. Don’t plug extension cords into another extension cord. Don’t run electrical cords across doorways or under carpet or anywhere there is going to be a lot of travel,” Dorsey said. “Through time people walking on top of an electrical cord you can break the insulation down and also wear the outside coating down on it. That could potentially create a bare wire at some point. If you feel like you have a little bit of a static shock when you are touching an appliance or plugging in an appliance, that is an indication that there is a problem with the equipment or wiring.”
Other signs on an electrical issue can include flickering or dimming lights, sparks from outlets or a outlet that is warm to the touch, he said.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration website, 12 percent of all reported residential fires related to heating.
For more information about fire safety in the home go to the U.S. Fire Administration or the NFPA’s website.