Temperatures dropped into the teens this week, and with several weeks of winter ahead, local emergency officials are sharing tips on how to stay warm and safe during the cold days to come.
“From Jan. 1 to 19, there were 154 reported civilian home fire fatalities in the United States,” said Capt. Theresa Knops of Elkin Fire Department. “While it wasn’t the cause of all of them, heating and playing with heating sources were some of the causes.
“When you factor that with December, January and February are the highest months for home heating fires, we have some tips we’d like to share with the community,” Knops said.
The first tip provided by the fire department is to heat one’s home safely. “That means keep anything you can burn three feet away from the fireplace, wood stove, space heater and any other heat source, and make that three feet a kid-free zone also,” she said.
Another recommendation is to have chimneys cleaned and inspected annually, to prevent build up which can lead to chimney fires.
“It is really important to turn portable heaters off when you leave a room or go to bed,” Knops advised. “And never use a stove to heat your home.”
She said in this area sometimes people have a tendency to turn on the stove and open the oven door to heat a room instead of using a proper heating source.
“Generators should always be used outside the home because we know carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when it is used too close to a home or not vented properly,” Knops said.
Unfortunately, this rings close to home for the Elkin Fire Department who lost two children in October of 2012 to carbon monoxide poisoning after a generator was used in the kitchen to power a refrigerator.
Elkin Fire Lt. Kevin Carter said a couple lost their lives in the early 2000s in State Road when the husband forgot and left the vehicle running in the garage and they went upstairs and went to bed and the carbon monoxide infiltrated the home.
Knops said, “Any home using a heating source fueled with something that comes out of the ground, like wood or gas, then you want a carbon monoxide alarm and test it once a month. It is a colorless, odorless gas.”
She said it is important to refuel heat sources to the manufacturer’s guidelines and to be sure if a kerosene heater is used to vent the room and house by cracking a window, and to turn it off when going to sleep.
The fire officers also stressed testing smoke detectors monthly.
“If anyone in Elkin needs alarms, we still have some,” said Knops of free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms the department will come out and install in a home.
“I really want to emphasize everyone have working smoking alarms and carbon monoxide alarms if they have an alternate source of heat,” she said.
In the event the area gets snow, Knops also asked area residents to be sure to keep it three feet away from fire hydrants when it is shoveled.
For those who may be traveling in these cold temperatures, she advised them to keep an emergency car kit handy, with at least two notable items — water and a blanket.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends including several items in a winter emergency travel kit — ice scraper, water, kitty litter for traction, shovel, flashlight, cell phone and car charger, and a thick coat.
Knops also suggested keeping a snack around. “Thank goodness we live in a community where people will stop and help,” she said.
Other preparedness tips can be found at ready.gov.
Carter said another tip is to have an escape plan, which is called EDITH for Evacuation Drills in the Home. “Practice that, have a safe meeting place so we know everyone’s out of the home so we don’t have to be in rescue mode and can focus on suppression,” he said. “I think that every home should have that. We have information here we can give them to help them with that.”
Another safety item Carter mentioned was being sure to extinguish any open flames like candles when they aren’t being watched or used.
Any Elkin residents who can use a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm can call the fire department at 336-794-6481.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.