Stay warm safely this winter

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

We all have used them at one time or another. Just that added little bit of heat can make a nice difference on a really cold day. But did you know that space heaters account for four out of every five home heating fire deaths?

With the forecast calling for overnight temperatures dipping into the 40’s this week – and into the 30’s next week in Northern Ohio, you may be tempted to break out your space heaters.  And there are some things to keep in mind.

Any time you are using a portable electric heater, it’s important to remember to keep them at least three feet – from EVERYTHING. Look around and anything that’s liable to burn should be well away from those hot elements. Bed linens, blankets, socks, children’s clothes, draperies, newspapers and magazines, cardboard boxes, paper bags . . . they are all able to ignite easily if they contact the heating elements of a space heater.

Also, remember that space heater cords are designed to safety transmit the electricity needed to operate the device itself, but often, household extension cords are not. Many cords have wires that are a smaller gauge than required to transfer all the electrical current required by the space heater. That can cause inexpensive extension cords to literally melt and start a fire just from continued use.

To view a video with tips from the National Fire Protection Association, CLICK HERE.

The ‘three-foot’ rule

Space heaters aren’t the only things that benefit from the three-foot rule. The same goes for fireplaces, wood stoves, candles and your furnace. It’s best to teach young children that it’s a “Kid Free Zone” around anything flammable and that they are not allowed to be any closer than that.

And while half of home heating fires happen in the months of December, January and February, it’s also a good rule all year long. With windows open in the summertime, a breeze could easily blow draperies or loose paper into a burning candle if set too close. We need to be vigilant all year long.

Sweep and service

Other heating appliances also need your attention each year. Your furnace should be routinely serviced each year before heating season. Heating coils should be cleaned professionally. And don’t forget to change filters in your furnace every couple of months at least. With routine cleaning and new filters, your furnace will not only last longer, but you’ll feel warmer and have cleaner air to breathe.

Lastly, don’t forget that fireplace. Chimneys can get coated with creosote, and with as little as 1/8 to 1/4 inch of creosote on the walls of your chimney, when temperatures reach 451 degrees, creosote can catch fire.  A chimney fire has the potential to burn down an entire house, so check your chimneys if you haven’t had them cleaned recently.

Alarms save lives

On top of your home safety checklist should be to make sure that you have installed working smoke and CO2 alarms throughout your home. You need to check regularly that the batteries are fresh and that any alarm manufactured before 2011 is replaced. Even if the batteries are new, the actual detection mechanisms in smoke alarms cease to function after 10 years. Replace them immediately.

If you need alarms and can’t afford them or can’t install them, call the American Red Cross to be put on our complimentary free alarm installation list. Visit this site to learn more or to get on the list.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Combat the cold safely at home and in the kitchen

By Chris Chmura, American Red Cross volunteer

Luckily, our Northeast Ohio winters have been pretty mild over the past few years. Although, we are currently headed into some very cold weeks with local news reporting temperatures with daily highs of low 20s, teens and single digits at night. So now is a good time to review how you plan to keep your home warm during the remainder of the winter and to take note of some statistics and American Red Cross tips.

  • As many of us stay close to home, we are spending more time cooking. Be careful because the number one cause of U.S. home fires is cooking, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

It’s cold outside and many may be resorting to alternate sources of heat to keep your home warm. Be cautious since heating sources are the second leading cause of home fire deaths. We recently wrote about space heaters in our blog: https://nohredcross.org/tag/space-heaters/.

The American Red Cross offers these steps to help keep you and your loved ones safe:

HOME HEATING SAFETY

  •    Does your home have a fire extinguisher that is not expired, in an easily accessible and       well known l[1] ocation?
  • Have furnaces, chimneys, fireplaces, wood and coal stoves inspected, cleaned and maintained to get you safely through the rest of our Ohio winter.
  • If using a space heater, look for a model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over. Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface in the home. Get into a daily routine of inspecting your heater’s cord, power source, and free of items that can catch fire.
  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves or fireplaces.
  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Cut down on heating costs. Insulate the home by installing storm windows or covering the inside of windows with plastic to keep cold air out.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Be very alert of safely using temporary construction propane heaters to heat your home. Review your heater’s safety manual for key information on operation. The number one issue is carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • Test batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Develop a fire escape plan and practice it with everyone who lives in the home. Don’t forget to include your pets in your plan!
  • The American Red Cross store has a wide variety of tools, guides and emergency kits to help you be prepared. Check out the items at https://www.redcross.org/store.

COOKING SAFETY

  • Keep an eye on what you fry! Never leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove. Keep a clean cooking area because oil can catch fire very easily. 
  • Move items that can burn away from the stove. This includes dishtowels, bags, boxes, paper and curtains. Also keep children and pets at least three feet away.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
  • When frying food, turn the burner off if you see smoke or if the grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.
  • Keep a pan lid or a cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire. This will put out the fire. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over.
  • Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on. Check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to ensure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are turned off.

The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters every year and most of these are home fires. In a typical year, home fires kill more people in the United States than all other natural disasters combined. Please take these two steps now to help keep your household safe: Check your smoke alarms every month and practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information and download the free Red Cross Emergency app (search “American Red Cross” in app stores).

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer


Stay safe during the Arctic blast

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

According to the National Weather Service, the coldest air of the season will arrive this weekend, and after a brief warm-up, will return by the middle of next week, with below-zero wind chills possible. High winds are also expected, with gusts as high as 32 mph tonight. The Northern Ohio region of the American Red Cross offers tips and resources to stay safe during this arctic blast.

As we stressed in our winter safety preparedness article, it is helpful to assemble an emergency preparedness kit and create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets.

Now that a winter storm is arriving, here are some tips.

Keep warm and informed

  • Stay indoors and wear warm clothes as much as possible. Layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing are best.
  • Eat regularly and drink fluids. Food provides the body with energy to produce heat, and fluids prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, however. Caffeine accelerates symptoms of hypothermia while alcohol slows circulation; both can cause dehydration.
  • Layer clothing when outside, and wear mittens or gloves and a hat. Frequently change wet clothing.
  • Protect your lungs from severely cold air. Cover your mouth, avoid taking deep breaths, and minimize talking.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Walk carefully on icy ground.
  • Make sure animals are safe and have access to non-frozen water and shelter.
  • Keep informed by listening to local radio, NOAA radio, or TV stations.
  • Check on relatives, neighbors, and friends, particularly if they are elderly or live alone.
  • If you need to evacuate, know your route and destination. You can check here for a Red Cross shelter.
  • Download the free Red Cross Emergency App.

Vehicle safety

  • Have emergency supplies in your vehicle, including blankets, warm broth in a thermos, water, food, and plastic bags for sanitation.
  • Make sure your phone is charged.
  • Let someone know your route, destination, and ETA.
  • If you become stranded, staying in the vehicle awaiting assistance is often best. Trouble signs like a brightly colored cloth or raised hood can help.
  • Running the engine for about 10 minutes each hour can help keep you warm. Keep the exhaust clear of snow.
  • Turn on an overhead light when the vehicle is running to be seen.
  • Light exercises and movement help keep up circulation.

Home safety

  • Take caution with home heaters, fireplaces, and candles. Keep anything that gives off heat at least three feet away from flammable materials, never plug more than one heating appliance into an outlet, and never leave heaters and flames unattended. Heating equipment is involved in one of every six home fires.
  • Also be careful with generators. Keep them outside and away from windows to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and follow safety instructions. More information on generator safety is here.
  • Prevent frozen pipes. Opening cabinet doors lets warm air circulate around plumbing and cold water dripping through a faucet served by exposed pipes can help prevent freezing.

Additional winter storm safety information is here. Stay safe, warm, and when help is needed, we are ready.