Fire Safety Shouldn’t Be Forgotten During the Holiday Season
By: John Fitts, Editor
December 26, 2014
During the hectic holiday season, fire safety may not be the first thing on people’s minds but it certainly should be.
Winter can be an especially dangerous season and last year, the town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS Department responded to approximately a half-dozen fires during the colder months.
Common causes of winter fires include improperly disposed ashes, dirty chimneys, improper use of portable heaters and much more. Sometimes creative heating methods can even get people into trouble.
“It’s a whole range of issues that come into play,” said acting fire marshal Scott Goeben. “
Safety campaigns have raised awareness to many issues, such as changing the batteries in carbon monoxide and smoke detectors but even so there are other issues people don’t always think about, especially as the busy season involves so many other tasks.
“People aren’t necessarily thinking about fire safety,” Goeben said.
For example, not only are fresh, quality batteries important with detectors but the units also have a shelf life. What many might not know, Goeben said, is the devices generally have a “born on” date stamped on back, allowing consumers to follow guidelines for replacing the units, generally recommended at 5 to 7 years for carbon monoxide detectors and 10 years for smoke detectors.
Goeben also cautions against plug-in CO detectors, since many dangerous situations occur during power outages, partially because people turn to alternative or creative heating methods.
“When they’re most at risk is when they don’t have the protection,” he said of the users of detectors that rely on electricity.
Fortunately some plug-in units have battery backup but consumers need to remember to change the batteries and test them at least once a year, fire officials said.
Fireplace ashes are another common problem, one issue being that people use improper containers, disposal methods and don’t realize that they can smolder for days.
Heating sources are another common problem. In addition to keeping flammable materials well away from the heat source, Goeben said the units are not ones in which people should seek a bargain but rather purchase new to ensure they have all the modern safety checks.
More specifically Goeben recommends the following.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: They should be tested monthly and have fresh, high quality batteries installed at least once a year. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years and carbon monoxide detectors about every 5 to 7 years. Most of these devices have a “born on” date on the bottom of the detector.
Fuel Burning Furnaces and Hot Water Heaters: a licensed professional should check these appliances annually. In addition to keeping you safe, properly maintained appliances operate more efficiently, saving you money. Combustible items should be kept at least three feet away. Never hang anything combustible over these appliances. If your furnace or hot water heater vents out the side of your house it is important the vent is kept clear of snow. A great tip for remembering this task is to take a picture showing where the vent is, print it out and post it where you will see it as a reminder.
Wood Stoves, Fireplaces and Pellet Stoves: Flues and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected at least annually by a professional registered with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. Cleaning may be required more often if the stove or fireplace is heavily used. Ashes should be placed in a metal bucket and then placed outside in a metal container with a lid. The can should be placed well away from structure and yard debris as the heat from the ash could ignite surrounding material. If you install a new wood or pellet stove, it is important to have the installation inspected the Canton Building Official. Many insurance companies now require this inspection as a condition of coverage.
Electric Space Heaters: Supplemental electric space heaters are often used to heat one room or area of a home. Used safely they can provide safe localized heating but caution should be used, as these appliances are responsible for approximately 35 percent of the winter fire fatalities in the United States. The appliance should be kept at least three feet from any combustible item, most notably bedding materials. The applicance should have a UL label. They should have a built in thermostat, automatic overheat shut off and turn off automatically if tipped over. Never use a two-prong adapter to plug a grounded three-prong plug into a two-prong outlet.
Acting Fire Marshal Scott Goeben recommends that ashes be scooped into wide-mouth bucket such as this and then placed in a metal bucket with a lid, outside away from any structures or materials. In background is Andy Dylag, a manager at Larsen ACE Hardware.
Detectors often have a “born-on” date, allowing consumers to follow replacement recommendations.
ACE Manager Andy Dylag and acting fire marshal Scott Goeben talk about smoke and Carbon monoxide detectors.