As the weather shifts from warm to cold, people’s thoughts turn to making memories with their family and friends over the holidays. But before guests arrive, people need to ensure safety is a part of their holiday plans.
Waxahachie Fire Marshal Marcus Brown said there are several steps residents can take to keep their entire house safe all winter long.
“With Thanksgiving coming up, a lot of people are going to have family coming in and there is going to be extra cooking to be done in the home,” Brown said. “It is a big thing to fry turkeys. What we would like to see is for people to keep those fryers away from their house, combustible materials and in a nice ventilated area.
“A big problem with those fryers is that they get overfilled with cooking oil,” he said. “So, it is important to remember that those turkey fryers displace a lot of oil. Make sure you have the proper oil level. Make sure you have adequate ventilation when you are using those open-air burners.”
According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, from 2014-2016, an estimated 2,400 residential building fires were reported to fire departments Thanksgiving Day, resulting in five deaths, 25 injuries and more than $19 million in property loss. Of those fires, 77-percent were due to cooking incidents.
Brown said it’s also a good time to check the home’s smoke detectors and fire extinguishers to ensure they are charged and haven’t gone out of date. Also, residents should review their home’s safety plan with guests who might be staying at the residence. While the homeowner might know where to evacuate and meet up during an emergency, guests don’t and may be unfamiliar with the house and its exits.
Heating the Home
When the temperature drops, people are looking for ways to keep themselves warm. But before any equipment is turned on, it’s important to take several steps.
“With the weather turning colder, we have a higher occurrence of fires in structures,” Brown said. “It is always a good idea before you turn your heat on to have that serviced by a professional.
“Those units can collect dust and debris over a year since the last time that they were used,” he said. “A lot of times we get calls because they put off gas and fumes when they first light them. They burn off that dust and debris off of those units. So, it is always a good idea to have those serviced by a professional. Make sure your equipment is running the way that it should be.”
The National Fire Protection Association reports that heating equipment is a leading cause of fires in U.S. homes, with local fire departments responding to an average of 52,050 fires involving heating equipment each year during 2012-2016. These fires resulted in 490 civilian deaths, 1,400 civilian injuries and more than $1 billion in direct property damage.
Brown said residents need to take greater care when using a portable heater in a home. These heaters can be easily knocked over or, if care is not exercised, a person can accidentally place them near a combustible item that can catch fire.
He noted some improvements have been made with these heaters but it is still important mindful of them.
“A lot of the new safety features with the newer heaters is that they have a trip feature where they will turn off if they are knocked over,” Brown said. “If you have an older type heater, little kids can knock that over. They can come in contact with combustible items. Just pay attention to that and turn off heaters when they are not going to be attended.”
The NFPA also reported that space heaters are the types of heating equipment that most often are involved in home heating fires. Most home heating fire deaths, 86-percent, involved stationary or portable space heaters.
People who use their fireplaces are advised to have their chimney swept and fireplace and chimney inspected. Sweeping the chimney removes the buildup of creosote, which is a flammable tar deposited from wood smoke on the chimney’s walls. If not removed, it can lead to a chimney fire. Inspections of the fireplace and chimney ensure there are no cracks where embers and fire can escape into other parts of the home.
For more information about fire prevention, visit the U.S. Fire Administration and National Fire Protection Association’s websites at www.usfa.fema.gov and www.nfpa.org. Residents who have questions can also contact the Waxahachie Fire Department through its non-emergency phone number at 469-309-4200.