WASHINGTON - The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) is urging residents to be safe as cold weather blankets the United States, including areas recently impacted by Hurricane Sandy. According to the NOAA National Weather Service, a coastal storm is expected to impact the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning after midnight Tuesday night and continue through Thursday night, with clearing expected by Friday. Impacts to the effected regions include; strong gusty northerly winds of 20-30 mph with gusts of 40-45 mph, rain of 1 to 2.5 inches along the coast, with lesser amounts inland possible, light wintry precipitation is possible inland, and coastal flooding/beach erosion along the New York/New Jersey coast. USFA urges everyone to monitor NOAA weather radio and local news reports for the latest storm conditions and take the necessary precautions to keep safe.
"As the cold weather approaches and residents are taking measures to stay warm, remember to take safety precautions," said U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell.
Cooking and home heating are the leading causes of residential building fires during periods of cold weather. The risk of fires also increases with the use of supplemental heating, such as space heaters. Carbon monoxide (CO) is also a serious threat in cold weather. Any fuel-burning appliances in the home, including furnaces and fireplaces, are a potential CO source. Carbon monoxide is called the "invisible killer," because it is an odorless, colorless and poisonous gas. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are an important line of defense in the home, and they give consumers valuable escape time. About two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or in homes where consumers have removed the alarm's batteries or where the batteries are dead.
The USFA recommends that in addition to having working smoke and CO alarms, all residents should follow these safety tips to prevent fires and CO poisoning during the recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy:
- Do not enter a building when the smell of natural gas is detected. Leave the building immediately and contact the fire department.
- Do not use the kitchen oven range to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.
- Alternative heaters need their space. Keep anything combustible at least 3 feet away.
- Make sure your alternative heaters have 'tip switches.' These 'tip switches' are designed to automatically turn off the heater in the event they tip over.
- Only use the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer and follow suggested guidelines.
- Never refill a space heater while it is operating or still hot.
- Refuel heaters only outdoors.
- Make sure wood stoves are properly operating, and at least 3 feet away from combustible materials. Ensure they have the proper floor support and adequate ventilation.
- Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby carpets, furniture or other combustible items
- Place space heaters on a floor that is flat and level. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials; and place space heaters out of the flow of foot traffic. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
- To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the heater off when you leave the area.
- Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire, and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
- Store fireplace ashes in a fire-resistant container, and cover the container with a lid. Keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles. Dispose of ashes carefully, keeping them away from dry leaves, trash or other combustible materials.
- Never bring gasoline into a building.
Preventing CO poisoning
- Schedule a yearly professional inspection of all fuel-burning home heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.
- NEVER operate a portable gasoline-powered generator in an enclosed space, such as a garage, shed, or crawlspace, or in the home.
- Keep portable generators as far away from your home and your neighbors' homes as possible - away from open doors, windows or vents that could allow deadly carbon monoxide into the home.
- When purchasing a space heater, ask the salesperson whether the heater has been safety-certified. A certified heater will have a safety certification mark. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
- Do not use portable propane space heaters indoors or in any confined space, unless they are designed specifically for indoor use. Always follow the manufacturer's directions for proper use.
- Never use gas or electric stoves to heat the home. They are not intended for that purpose and can pose a CO or fire hazard.
As an entity of the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, the mission of the United States Fire Administration is to provide national leadership to foster a solid foundation for our fire and emergency services stakeholders in prevention, preparedness, and response.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.