When you think about winter safety, what comes to mind? Chances are, you think about putting down salt to keep from slipping on the ice or survival kits that go in the trunk of your car in case you get stranded in a snowstorm. However, did you know that home fires are more prevalent in the winter than in any other season?
Last week, such a tragedy took place in Haysville and several other locations across the state. Seeing stories of these fires on the news is heartbreaking. The damage caused extends beyond the physical destruction. It is mentally exhausting on victims who have lost all of their possessions and have to replace items that may have had emotional value. The loss of belongings alone can be overwhelming, but when you add to that the loss of lives, the results can be devastating.
The arrival of frigid temperatures can bring an added layer of difficulty to fire crews trying to put out these flames, so it is important for Hoosiers to be aware of the dangers that winter brings. Fires are more prevalent in the winter due in part to an increase in cooking and heating fires. In addition, winter storms can interrupt electrical service, causing people to turn to alternative heating sources which can then lead to fires. There is also the potential for a fire from a malfunctioning Christmas decoration.
When it comes to home fires involving cooking equipment, more fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. These fires can occur at any time you are cooking though, not just when you’re cooking a big holiday meal. In 2011, it is estimated that cooking was involved in over 150,000 home fires reported in the United States. These fires also caused 470 deaths.
The most effective way to prevent a kitchen fire is simply to stay in the kitchen anytime you are cooking. If you must leave the room, you should always turn off the stove, even if it is only for a very short time. It may seem like a hassle and difficult to remember in the spur of the moment, however it is a good thing to get in the habit of doing.
Space heaters also pose a significant danger, accounting for 33 percent of home heating fires and 81 percent of home heating fire deaths. When purchasing a space heater, be sure it has an automatic shut-off. You’ll still want to turn the space heater off each night before bed or whenever you leave the room but having an automatic shut-off is a good backup plan in case you forget. As a rule of thumb, you should always keep the heater three feet away from anything that could potentially burn or ignite.
If you would like to learn more about this topic, please visit the National Fire Protection Association website atwww.nfpa.org. Keep in mind that while some fires may be manageable, others require professional help. When in doubt, the best thing you can do is get everyone outside. Once you are safely outside, then call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number, not before. I hope that none of you find yourselves in this situation, however in case you do, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having working smoke detectors outside of each sleeping area and on every level of the home.
While many of these tips may seem simple and perhaps even common sense, I hope that you will take them seriously because they do save lives. The best way to extinguish a fire truly is to prevent it in the first place. Stay warm this winter, and if you get a chance, share these tips with a friend. You never know when you might need them!