Above average temperatures can only last so long and colder weather is on the way. Colder temperatures will mean that citizens and residents will start using their heating devices to stay warm. Along with these devices come the danger of fire and carbon monoxide (CO). Prince George’s County Firefighter/Medics have already operated at two incidents involving carbon monoxide (CO) that have sent 20 people to the hospital.
The leading causes of fires during this time of year are related to citizens and residents trying to stay warm at home. An additional concern for firefighters is that the high financial cost to heat your home might drive you to use supplemental heating sources more frequently. That equates to a busier than normal season for firefighters. Fireplaces and space heaters can make a room toasty, but the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department urges citizens and residents to “think fire-safety first,” and exercise caution when using these devices. Prince George’s County Fire Chief Eugene a. Jones stated, “The most effective way to fight a fire is to prevent it from ever happening. We need our citizens and residents to practice fire-safe habits everyday of the year.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), nationally, fireplaces and chimneys were involved in 43 percent of all home heating fires and 11 percent of the associated deaths. Fixed and portable space heaters, including wood stoves, were involved in 25 percent of the home heating fires, but 74 percent of the associated deaths. Central heating was involved in 19 percent of home heating fires and 10 percent of the associated deaths.
Most fireplace and chimney fires were caused by creosote build-up. The leading cause of space heater fires was combustibles too close to the heaters. Central heating fires are primarily caused by mechanical failures or malfunctions.
Winter also brings an increased response to cases of Carbon Monoxide exposure. CO is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. It results from incomplete oxidation of carbon in combustion and/or the inadequate ventilation of CO after normal combustion. Sources of CO are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air. Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking. Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.
We have recently seen two potentially tragic reminders that CO can be found anywhere that heat is being generated; home, work and public places. On Saturday, November 7, 2009, 13 people were transported to a hospital suffering from CO exposure after a furnace at St. Bernard’s Church in Riverdale malfunctioned. On Wednesday, November 18, 2009, a Landover family, 3 adults and 4 children, were rushed to the hospital after being exposed to high level of CO from a charcoal grill that was being used inside the home located in the 9100 block of 91st Place.
Carbon Monoxide Safety
• Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
• Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
• Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
• Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
• Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
• Do not idle the car inside garage and never use a charcoal grill indoors.
• Install a working CO alarm.
The fire service has labeled CO as the “Silent Killer.” Because the properties of CO (colorless, odorless and tasteless) make it nearly impossible to detect without monitoring equipment. A working CO alarm is the best method citizens and residents can use to detect the presence of CO. CO alarms are inexpensive and can be purchased at hardware and home improvement stores.
Fire Safety and Injury Prevention
When buying a new space heater make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory, and be sure to have fixed space heaters installed by a qualified technician, according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. Or, make sure a qualified technician checks to see that the unit has been properly installed.
• Keep or maintain a 36-inch clearance between space heaters and anything that can burn. “Give Space Heaters Space.”
• Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors and all other solid-fueled heating equipment inspected annually by a professional, and clean as often as inspections suggest.
• Use only wood that is properly seasoned to reduce creosote build-up.
• Make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room.
• Allow fireplace and woodstove ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container.
• Test smoke alarms monthly; install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area.
As temperatures continue to fall there is the potential for increased fires, injuries and deaths associated with heating equipment. “Every home needs to have a working smoke alarm, a working Carbon Monoxide alarm, and a home escape plan should be in place and practiced,” says Fire Chief Jones. A working smoke alarm increases your chances of surviving a home fire by about 50 percent. Prince George’s County citizens and residents may receive a working smoke alarm, free of charge, by calling our Livable Communities Smoke Alarm Hotline at 301-864-SAFE (7233).