By Johnny Jackson
As the chill of winter approaches, fire officials are reminding residents to be prepared, and aware of fire safety, while meeting their heating needs.
"One of the big things that we run into in the winter is people not opening the flue in their chimneys," said Henry County Fire Lt. Vince Harris. "Another thing is people not having their chimneys cleaned [regularly], which can cause fires."
Harris is a firefighter/paramedic at Station 13, next door to Timber Ridge Elementary School in McDonough, where the firefighters participate in school reading programs and provide students with fire safety lessons.
One simple lesson, Harris noted, is knowing to keep combustibles away from heat sources, and knowing how to properly maintain those heat sources.
Heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fires in Georgia, added State Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine, in a statement about fire safety.
Oxendine said portable space heaters, open fireplaces and wood stoves, can be dangerous if misused. He advised people to keep portables away from curtains, draperies, and other flammable material, and always follow the manufacturer's operating instructions.
The commissioner said those using kerosene space heaters, should make sure each heater has an automatic shut-off, in case it tips over, and users should wait until the heater has cooled, and take it outside before refueling.
Harris said other causes of fires can stem from routine misuse of equipment, and everyday misunderstandings about fire safety.
"When people are burning in their fireplaces, [for example,] they tend to throw their contents in the trash can when they aren't completely cooled off," Harris said. "But ashes smolder and can catch on fire when you're away at work, or something."
The fire lieutenant continued that people often misuse small electrical extension cords for industrial or outdoor purposes, which can cause fires.
Georgia's Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner added the following fire safety tips, to keep in mind during the winter months:
* Have your home heating unit checked annually to be sure it is working efficiently and safely. Make sure all fuel-burning appliances and fireplaces are properly vented.
* If you suspect a gas leak in your home, leave immediately and call the gas company from elsewhere.
* Install an adequate number of smoke alarms, and replace the batteries annually.
* Each household should have a well-rehearsed family escape plan, and a planned meeting place outside the house . All rooms, especially bedrooms, should have two escape routes.