Fire Officials Urge Heater Safety

Bitter cold temperatures this week may prompt homeowners to use alternative heat sources to warm their abodes.

They don’t, however, want to set their homes on fire, stressed David Palmer, fire inspector for the Wheeling Fire Department. He offered tips on how to heat homes safely during the winter months.

“If we have one fire each winter season because of a space heater, that’s too many,” Palmer said. “They are preventable.

“People lose property, and they could lose their life,” he added. “A firefighter could be injured.”

When using space heaters, residents should do just that – leave space around the heaters, said Palmer. Such appliances should sit at least 3 feet away from walls or any object that could become hot and catch fire.

“Space heaters are a temporary heat source,” he continued. “They are good for heating when you are in a room. But they should be turned off when you are sleeping or out of the room.”

A second problem associated with the use of space heaters is the improper use of extension cords, according to Palmer. As a fire inspector, he said he has seen many instances where extension cords have been plugged into other extension cords or power strips, and this has caused fires.

He noted that both extension cords and power strips need to be plugged directly into a wall socket.

“You find this a lot in the computer age – that people are plugging extension cords into power strips,” Palmer said.

He recounted having inspected schools where strings of computers were connected to one power source.

And those using extension cords or power strips should make certain these are quality pieces that they bear the “UL approved” label from Underwriters Laboratories. Palmer noted there is a big difference between an extension cord that costs 99 cents and one that costs $19.

“There’s a lot of counterfeit stuff out there,” he said, pointing out that the wiring inside the cords may not be up to code. “I always say, things cost 99 cents for a reason.”

Those heating with fireplaces should have their chimneys cleaned and inspected before the start of each season, he noted. They should have a sturdy fireplace screen to protect from sparks flying out, and ashes should be left to cool completely before removal and placed in a metal container for disposal.

Palmer also warns homeowners against attempting to heat their homes by turning on and opening up their gas ovens. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result.

More than 200 people die annually of carbon monoxide poisoning because of the improper use of fuel-burning appliances, Palmer said.He suggested homeowners install carbon monoxide monitors in their homes along with fire alarms.

The alarms should be checked once monthly, he said. And batteries in the devices should be changed twice a year.