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Monday, March 3, 2014

Stay Warm Safely - Freezing Temperatures Forecast After Snow ends

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930
mebrady@co.pg.md.us     @PGFDPIO

After todays snow event the National Weather Service is forecasting single digital temperatures tonight and combined with wind the air temperatures could be near or below zero degrees.  Colder than normal temperatures are forecast through the rest of this week.

The Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department (PGFD) is reminding everyone that home fires are more prevalent in cold weather than in any other time of the year. This is due in part to an increase in cooking and heating fires.  Winter storms can interrupt electrical service and cause people to turn to alternative heating sources which also contribute to the increased risk of fire in winter.  This reminder involves the safe use of space heaters, general heating safety tips, Hypothermia and Frostbite prevention and location of Warming Centers.

Stay Safe

The civilian, career and volunteer men and women of the Fire/EMS Department want to remind everyone that fire safety and prevention are especially important during times of cold temperatures.  “Temperatures drop and fires increase,” said Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor.  According to NFPA statistics space heaters account for about one third of the home heating fires yet more than 80 percent of the home heating fire deaths. 

The Winter Residential Building Fires report released by USFA in 2010, reports an estimated 108,400 winter residential building fires occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries, and $1.7 billion in property loss.  

Cooking and heating are the top causes of fires during cold weather. 

“The winter season brings the highest number of home fires than any other time of year,” said Fire Chief Bashoor. “Each winter season, home fires increase in part due to cooking and heating fires. Fire safety and injury prevention must not be lost in an effort to stay warm. Stay warm and do so safely.  Safety First ensures everyone goes home.” 

The Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department recommend the following safety tips for space heaters. 

Electric Space Heaters

• Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). 

• Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over. 

• Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. 

 • Space heaters need space; keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.

• Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use. 

  Turn off at night or whenever you sleep. - - Never use an extension cord with space heaters - plug directly into wall socket.

Using a kerosene heater???  Never refuel indoors.  Remove the kerosene heater outdoors, turn off and wait for it to cool down before refueling and only use the correct type of fuel.

General Heating Tips     

    Furnaces, fireplaces and chimneys should be cleaned and checked each year by an appropriate professional prior to using.  Clear away any clutter from these heating devices, at least 3 feet away.

    Only use seasoned wood in fireplaces, never use ignitable liquids to start a fire and do not overload your appliance.
    The 3-foot rule also applies to furnaces and fireplaces.  No combustibles items within 3 feet of these heating appliances.
    Dispose of fireplace ash into a metal container and store outdoors away from structures on a concrete surface.  Fireplace ash can ignite a fire days after they have been discarded.
Finally, ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are working by pushing the test button on the front cover.  If you do not hear an audible warning, replace your alarm with a new 10-year, tamper proof, with hush feature alarm.  Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. A working CO detector will protect you and your family from deadly "silent killer" fumes that may be building up in your home.  Remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family. 
Residents of Prince George’s County can contact our "Safety First" smoke alarm program at 301-864-SAFE (7233).  A firefighter will install a working smoke alarm in your home free of charge. 

For additional information from the USFA on Winter Fire Safety; click here.usfire.gov.
Residents are encouraged to utilize Prince George’s County’s CountyClick 311 system to obtain information about public services.

Stay Healthy

With temperatures reaching single digits and dangerously low wind chills tonight, Prince George’s County Health Department wants our residents to avoid serious health problems that can occur due to prolonged exposure to cold weather. The two most common conditions are hypothermia and frostbite.

 “All residents must take precautionary actions as a primary defense against injuries and illness resulting from extreme cold weather conditions,” said Pamela Creekmur, Health Officer. “When exposed to cold weather, our bodies lose heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in bodily injury, illness, and even death.”

The Health Department advises all residents to check on your elderly relatives and neighbors to ensure they have adequate heat and protection from the cold.  Limit the amount of time your pet spends outside.  Indoor pets when outside in the freezing cold, can also contract hypothermia very quickly.

Hypothermia is one of the serious health problems that can be caused by exposure during cold weather.  If a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees, immediately seek medical attention.

In mild cases the symptoms include:

    Uncontrollable shivering
    Pale and cold skin

Other more serious signs include:

    Confusion or sleepiness
    Slurred speech
    Shallow breathing
    Weak pulse
    Stiffness in the arms or legs
    Or, poor control over body movements

In the case of serious symptoms, contact the victim’s doctor or call 911.

In either case, until help arrives or the person is seen by a doctor, move the person to a warm room, warm the body with dry layers of blankets or clothing, and give warm beverages.

Frostbite refers to actual freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue which is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32F.  The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.

Individual at risk for frostbite include those with impaired circulation, the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains outside for prolonged periods.  The danger increases if the individual becomes wet.

Symptoms of frostbite include:

    Gradual numbness;
    Hardness and paleness of the affected area during exposure,
    Pain and tingling or burning in affected area following warming; and
    Possible change of skin color to purple


Follow these tips to weather the winter in a healthy way:

    Cover your head.  You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
    Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.  The air between the layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
    Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from direct, extremely cold air.  Cover your ears and lower part of your face as well.
    Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves.  The close contact of fingers helps to keep your hands warm.
    Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks.
    Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.

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