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Officials offer tips for a safe winter

Special photo
Clayton County fire officials said residents can avoid chimney fires by following a few simple safety tips.

Special photo Clayton County fire officials said residents can avoid chimney fires by following a few simple safety tips.

Clayton County fire officials are offering safety tips to help families get through the cold winter months without suffering the tragedy of a fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, “December, January and February, are the top months for home fire deaths."

Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jeff Hood said there are simple steps residents can take to avoid loss of life, or property damage.

"Recent fire deaths during this holiday season are tragic reminders that we are at the time of year when home fires peak," said Hood. "Taking simple steps to prevent fires, and making sure you have working smoke alarms can save lives."

A Jonesboro family was displaced Christmas Eve when a fire destroyed their home. Two residents, including a semi-paralyzed man, who was in a wheelchair, suffered smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries were reported, said Battalion Chief Jacque Feilke. The family is living elsewhere, while their home is being rebuilt.

A primary cause of fires during the winter involves methods of heating homes. Hood said residents should never use an oven as a heater. All heaters should be kept far from flammables.

"All heaters need space," he said. "Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, such as a furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater. Have a 3-foot, kid-free zone around open fires and space heaters."

Qualified professionals, he said, should install space-heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment. Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

"Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed," said Hood. "Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters."

Fireplaces should have sturdy screens to prevent sparks from flying into the room, and ashes should be cool before they are put into a metal container with a lid.

"Keep the container a safe distance away from your home," said Hood. "Make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside each bedroom, and outside each sleeping area."

Families should also develop and practice a home escape plan that includes two ways out of each room, and an outside meeting place, he advised.

Another indoor winter hazard involves carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is produced whenever any fuel, such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned.

"If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of carbon monoxide produced is usually not hazardous," said Hood. "However, if appliances are not working properly, or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can result. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances."

Hood recommends that residents never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, garage, basement, crawl space or any partially-enclosed area. Locate units away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

"The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire," said Hood. "Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home, and in outside sleeping areas, to provide an early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide."

If the alarm sounds, move to a fresh air location outdoors, or by an open window or door. Call for help from a fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive, he said.

Access www.readyclayton.com, or www.nfpa.org, for more safety tips.