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State stresses winter home-fire safety

November 26th, 2011 7:23 am by Gary B. Gray

State stresses winter home-fire safety

The Tennessee Fire Marshal’s Office has begun a new program to decrease the number of fires and fire-related deaths and injuries in Tennessee.

The office has released the first in what will be a series of three monthly articles that speak to seasonal fire hazards and ways to prevent property damage, injuries and firerelated deaths.

Over the last few years in Tennessee, trends and statistics have shown a decrease in the number of fires and fire deaths from home heating equipment. This is largely due to increased fire safety awareness from local and state fire educators across the state. However, the high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has many residents searching for alternate sources of home heating, which brings the potential for the re-emergence of residential heating fires.

“For hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, schools and other special-needs groups, the loss of power, heat and medical equipment operation may be life-threatening,” said James Bassham, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency director.

Bassham said icing conditions during cold weather could last for weeks and interfere with the return of power to homes and businesses. So to prepare for that eventuality, people should think about stocking up on water and food for an extended period and other advance planning.

“Keeping a portable generator and becoming familiar with how to hook it up and safely operate it are essential steps to survival,” he said. “Making sure you have plenty of blankets and quilts or heating and cooking oil are considerations.”

According to a 2009 National Fire Protection Association study, about half of all home heating fires occur in December, January and February, peaking from 6-8 p.m. Home heating equipment operating too close to combustible materials is responsible for more than 50 percent of deaths from accidental fires in the home.

Fire safety tips:

• Practice proper maintenance and use of heating equipment.

• Have qualified professionals install equipment according to local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

• Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional. Screens around the front of fireplaces protect the surrounding surfaces from floating embers and burns.

• Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.

• If using portable heating equipment, be sure to never leave them unattended or sleep with them on. Electrical portable heating equipment should be plugged directly into a receptacle, never using extension cords or power strips.

• If using fuel-fired portable heating equipment, make sure manufacturer’s recommendations are followed and install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.

• Never use a range or an oven as a supplemental heating device — not only is it a safety hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.

• Fireplaces need to be inspected and cleaned prior to seasonal operation if wood or coal-burning. Always be sure a fire is out before going to sleep and never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.

• Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke alarm, and be sure to check and clean it on a monthly basis.

• Plan and practice a home escape plan with your family.

For more information, email Johnson City Assistant Fire Marshal Lori Ratliff at lratliff@   or call 975-2840.

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