The most wonderful time of the year can also be one of the most dangerous if proper precautions are not taken to safely heat homes as temperatures drop.
Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson says home fires occur more often in winter than in any other season, and alternative heating sources, such as space heaters, are involved in roughly one out of every six of those fires.
He urges Hoosiers to consider other options and to be safe when using any source of heat. Dressing in layers and wearing things like thermal long underwear will reduce body heat loss and enhance warmth and is much cheaper than home insulation. Additionally moving around while indoors will help to generate heat.
Greeson says caulk can also stop drafts and decrease heat loss. He says baking and cooking can also provide a source of warmth indoors, but adds the stovetop or oven should not be used to heat the home. Doing so can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Additionally the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission urges anyone who is having difficulty paying their gas or electric bills to contact their utility company as soon as possible to discuss payment options or assistance. Help is available through government Energy Assistance Programs, social service agencies or faith based groups. Find more information online at at in.gov/ihcda. For a list of local contacts, visit http://bit.ly/2hcK4eE.
Space heaters and other alternative heating should be avoided if at all possible, according to Greeson. If they need to be used, he says there should be at least a three-foot perimeter around them at all times. Also they should be placed away from loose or flammable objects like clothing, curtains, bedding and furniture. Only plug one space heater in to each electrical outlet, and do not leave them on in an unoccupied room. Kerosene space heaters should be refueled outside the home, and then only after they cool down if they were recently used.
No matter if it’s a space heater, wood stove or fireplace, turn it off or extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving home.
Greeson adds working smoke alarms are important to have year round, but they can be especially important in the winter months with the added risk of alternative heating sources, such as space heaters and fireplaces. According to the Red Cross, families have as little as two minutes to safely escape a burning home, and having a working smoke alarm can double a person’s chance of surviving.
Greeson says smoke alarms should be tested frequently to ensure they work. He also recommends installing new batteries.
The Indiana chapters of the Red Cross have smoke alarm programs for those who cannot afford to purchase them or are physically unable to install them. Call 1-888-684-1441 or contact a local Red Cross chapter to make an appointment to test existing smoke alarms and/or install free home alarms. Learn more about the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign by visiting redcross.org/local/Indiana/home-fire-campaign.