With cold weather and winter storms working their way through the U.S., Americans are hoping to start the new year on the right foot despite the dangerous climate effects around the country. Being aware of your surroundings while taking precautions from both indoor and outdoor hazards, such as power outages, dangerous roadways and freezing temperatures can make a difference between life and death.
Staying warm in the harsh winter months can be a difficult task. Home heating is considered to be one of the leading causes of residential building fires during wintertime. From 2005 to 2007, nearly 33,000 fires and 180 fire deaths per year were traced back to incidents involving home heating, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
However, non-fire carbon monoxide (CO) deaths concerning everyday consumer products are also increasing each year since 1999. Heating systems and portable generators lead as the primary cause for such occurrences, although it has been proven that operable smoke and CO alarms decrease the likelihood of these fatal events significantly.
In addition to proper smoke and CO sirens, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and CPSC have released the following safety tips to help prevent fires and CO poisoning:
* Space heaters are to be kept on flat, level flooring without rugs or carpets beneath it. The heater should also be kept at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials, and also away from pets and children.
* Turn the heater off before going to sleep or leaving the area and never place too close to any sleeping persons.
* The risk of fire is dramatically increased when gasoline, large or small amounts, is used in a kerosene space heater.
* Inspect chimneys and fireplace flues for leakage and blockage caused by creosote and debris.
* Keep fireplace ashes in a fire-resistant container with a sealed lid. The container should be kept outdoors and away from combustibles. Carefully dispose of the ashes while keeping them away from dry leaves, trash or other combustible materials.
* All fuel-burning home heating systems, such as furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, flues, chimneys and vents should be checked on an annual basis by a professional.
* A portable gasoline-powered generator should NEVER be operated within an enclosed space, including garages, sheds, or crawlspace, or in the home.
* Portable generators should be kept as far away from your home and neighbors’ homes as possible. This includes open doors, windows or vents that could potentially allow fatal carbon monoxide to creep into one’s home.
* Always ask a sales representative whether the space heater you are purchasing has been properly safety-certified. A certified heater will always carry a certification mark, designating that it has been guaranteed to include the most up-to-date safety features.
* Unless specifically designed for indoor use, never use portable propane space heaters indoors. The manufacturer’s directions should highlight correct usage details.
* Gas and electric stoves should never be used to heat a home. Not only are they not intended for that purpose, but also pose a CO/fire hazard.
Another example of the dangers existent during the winter season are winter storms. Although some can affect only small communities for just a few hours, some can also last for several days while spanning more than several states. Winter storms are often accompanied by frigidly low temperatures along with dangerous winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.
Traffic accidents lead as the primary cause of death during winter storms. Downed trees and other various obstacles often cause public officials to close highways in the course of a strong storm, preventing risk-taking individuals from putting their lives at risk.
Preparedness is key when dealing with a significant winter storm, so the American Red Cross offers a few tips to help Americans better organize a safe environment:
* Keep the gas tank in your vehicle full, thus to keep the full line from freezing.
*Install storm windows or plastic window coverings from the inside to insulate your home and keep the cold air out.
* Leave the heat on in your home while going away during cold weather.
* Put together a supply kit consisting of water, food, a flashlight, a hand-crank radio, batteries, first aid kit, medications, tools, sanitation items, personal documents, emergency contact information, extra cash, coats and ample alternate heating methods.
* Bring pets inside during winter weather.
* Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
*Consider your physical condition and current weather conditions before undertaking strenuous tasks.
* Strive to aid those who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
Critical information on snow storms and blizzards can be heard on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio or other local news channels from the National Weather Service (NWS).