Local Red Cross warns of fire dangers

CINCINNATI, OH - A tough economy and dropping temperatures pose dangerous threats as many Tri-state residents look at alternative heating sources as a way to save money.

The Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross urges families to use caution when using space heaters, wood or coal stoves and fireplaces because of fire hazards and the danger of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

To prevent heating related fires, the Red Cross recommends keeping all potential fuel sources, including newspapers, matches, bedding and clothing at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces and wood stoves.  In addition, portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended.

"Last year the Cincinnati Area Chapter responded to nearly 700 home fires within the Chapter's service area" said Sara Peller, CEO of the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.  "Preventing a home fire doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment or training and doesn't take much time."

In addition to following the manufacturer's instructions on how to safely use heating equipment, one of the easiest ways to prepare is to check that all of your home's smoke alarms are in good condition.  Smoke alarms should be installed outside of each sleeping area and on each level of your home.  If you sleep with bedroom doors closed, install an alarm in each bedroom, too.  Use the test button to check your alarms once a month and batteries should be replaced twice each year - an easy way to remember is when we change back and forth with Daylight Savings Time.

The American Red Cross offers the following prevention tips to stop heating fires before they start:

  • Keep all potential fuel sources (newspapers, matches, bedding, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heat sources, such as space heaters, fireplaces, and stoves.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.
  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.
  • If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, or carpets or near bedding or drapes.

Carbon monoxide, often called the silent killer, is an invisible, odorless and colorless gas created when fuels such as gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane burn incompletely.  Heating and cooking equipment that burn these fuels are potential sources of CO.  Vehicles and generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of this deadly gas.

As the weather gets colder, the risk of CO poisoning increases.  As many as 25 percent of patients who go to emergency rooms with flu-like or more severe symptoms may actually have been exposed to CO.  High exposures may cause brain damage or death.  Most causes of in-home CO can be traced to closed chimneys, fuel burning heaters, grills being used indoors, vehicles being warmed up inside garages, and multiple heating appliances being used in close proximity to each other.

"There are several things you can do immediately to prevent CO poisoning," Peller continues.  "First, install CO alarms in your home.  Alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area.  If bedrooms are spaced apart, each area will need a CO alarm."

If you install only one CO alarm, place it near bedrooms and not in the basement or furnace room.  Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for mounting the alarm.  It is important that the alarm can be heard throughout the house.  Just as with smoke alarms, test them regularly and if they are battery-powered, replace batteries regularly.

Never run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors.  Even if garage doors are open, CO can still escape into the house.  Have a professional inspect household heating equipment every year before cold weather begins.  Have chimneys checked for cracks, blocks or leaks and have them cleaned by a professional chimney sweep.

"The final piece of the preparedness puzzle is planning," Peller says.  "It's crucial that your family develop an emergency plan, and then practice it."  In developing your plan, discuss what disasters might occur, depending on where you live and then establish responsibilities for each household member.

Choose two places to meet after a disaster.  First, plan to meet just outside your home in case of sudden emergency like a fire.  Also have a meeting place outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home or you are asked to evacuate your neighborhood.

Each adult in the household should learn how and when to turn off utilities such as electricity, water and gas.  Ask your fire department to show you how to use a fire extinguisher.  Tell everyone in your household where emergency information and supplies are kept and keep all information updated.

Practice your family evacuation plan twice each year.  Drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes in case your chosen route is unavailable.  And of course, include your pets.  If you have to evacuate, take your animals with you.  If it's not safe for you to remain, it's not safe for them.

For more information on emergency preparedness or help with developing your own family emergency plan, contact the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross at www.cincinnatiredcross.org or call 513-579-3000.