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Bellingham Bulletin

Winter Heating Tips May Help Prevent House Fires

Jan 02, 2018 10:43AM ● Published by Pamela Johnson

Betty Willey with Firefighter Brad Kwatcher

Many of us have watched our kids come home from school, having attended a fire safety program, and watched the kids practice “stop, drop and roll.” The fire department’s efforts in the schools have produced measureable effects, reducing children’s deaths from fire. But fire safety officials noticed that in this same time there has been an increasing number of deaths by fire of seniors, especially during the winter heating season.

Thus, Brad Kwatcher, from the Bellingham Fire Department, and certified as a Fire and Life Safety Educator through the SAFE (Student Awareness of Fire Education) program, visited the Bellingham Senior Center in December. Kwatcher noted that “heating is the #2 cause of house fires in Massachusetts, with cooking being the #1 cause of fire.”

Kwatcher interspersed his presentation with short anecdotes from his and other fire-fighting colleagues’ experiences responding to unsafe practices that are common during heating season. He warned against removing batteries from smoke detectors, and talked about placement for carbon monoxide detectors (on every level of your house). He spoke repeatedly about the importance of proper maintenance for furnaces and woodstoves.

Kwatcher made a point of explaining the value of the UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory) tags that are on heating equipment such as space heaters, as well as extension cords. He stated the obvious, but still necessary, warning that “Space heaters need—space!” He additionally warned to never use space heaters as a #1 source of heat. In Massachusetts, kerosene heaters are illegal. “And if you see a kerosene heater in another state that is for sale,” he pointed out, “leave it in that state.”

Simple steps such as discarding hot ashes in a metal bucket, not a plastic container, may seem obvious, but the reminders are needed because people continue to take these shortcuts and suffer the consequences. Kwatcher offered numerous stories of people who allowed snow to block their furnace vents and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. “If you are in doubt, call 911,” Kwatcher advised. “Don’t call the business line. We get a lot of false alarms with carbon monoxide detectors, but we’d rather confirm it is a false alarm. We will check it out.

Kwatcher advised those who came to the presentation to seek help from the Senior Center to access fuel assistance if finances are a concern. “We don’t want you to use alternative forms of heating.”

Have you got a keyless ignition for your car to warm it up before you head off to work? Beware of starting your car like this in the garage—carbon monoxide is a real threat even if the garage door is open. Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, nausea, sleepiness, confusion and flu-like symptoms.

The group had lots of questions for Kwatcher when he emphasized the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning for those who might use their gas stoves to keep their homes warm, especially when there is a power outage. Clearly this is something a lot of folks still do when they lose power. Kwatcher suggested signing up for the “code red” phone calls that provide town-wide alerts for oncoming weather events, and information about where emergency shelters are located during or after storms. Sign up by either calling the Bellingham Fire Department’s non-emergency number, 508-966-1112, or going to the town’s website. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the home page to find the “sign up for code red” button.

Kwatcher touched briefly on safe cooking practices, reminding those present that cooking is the #1 cause of fire in the state. Some basic reminders were to wear short or tight-fitting sleeves when cooking, to “stand by your pan” and never leave the stove when frying food on your stovetop. And never throw water on a burning cooking fire—place a lid over the burning pan.

Other important reminders were reiterated throughout the presentation—replace your smoke alarm batteries every six months, and replace carbon monoxide monitors every five to seven years by replacing the entire unit.

Kwatcher’s most important message was one he repeated throughout the presentation. “If you aren’t sure, call us.” We are so lucky to have first responders who really care about the community.

County+State, In Print, Municipal, Seniors, Life+Leisure, Today, Schools, Community In the January 2018 print edition

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