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Milford Beacon
  • Keeping safe while staying warm: Safety tips for winter heating

  • With winter rolling in and snow blanketing many areas of Delaware this week, it’s time to crank up the heat. But before getting that fire started or plugging in those heaters, there are a few safety precautions to consider while staying warm.
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  • With winter rolling in and snow blanketing many areas of Delaware this week, it’s time to crank up the heat. But before getting that fire started or plugging in those heaters, there are a few safety precautions to consider while staying warm.
    While cooking fires trump as the most likely cause of house fires throughout the year, Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Chionchio said there is an increase in house fires in the winter for the simple fact that more people are staying indoors.
    Chionchio said the major winter-related fire hazards, aside from cooking accidents, are caused by fire place chimney malfunctions or improper use of fire places. He recommends to have chimneys, vents and furnaces checked at least once a year and to make sure to keep all flammable items at least 3 feet away.
    While that seems pretty self-explanatory, sometimes newer home owners who have never operated a fire place before make dangerous mistakes, like using cardboard or newspaper for kindling, adding gasoline to spark a fire or simply letting the chimney flue go too long without a cleaning.
    Maintenance is key, but prevention and planning, including making sure the house is equipped with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level, can really be the key to staying safe if an accident occurs.
    “With the holidays and everything, it’s just nice for the family to just take a few minutes to go over fire safety tips and plan an escape route and hopefully nothing ever happens to you,” Chionchio said.
    Ernie Hostedler, a chimney technician with Milford’s Clean Sweep Chimney Services, said that no matter how seasoned a resident may be with using wood-burning fireplaces, there is always danger associated if the fireplace is not properly handled and maintained.
    “With fireplaces and wood stoves, you’re burning a fire in the middle of your house, so that right there makes it dangerous,” Hostedler said. “The biggest problem is that people don’t always understand the heat intensity of what they’re dealing with. They don’t always look at the safety issues, and of course if they don’t get the chimney cleaned, that could be a major problem.”
    While a once-a-year cleaning is a general advisory, Hostedler said it depends on the way a person uses it how often it needs to be cleaned. The frequency of use, type of chimney and type of wood burned are all factors that vary the amount of creosote that builds up in a chimney flue.
    Hostedler said that of the roughly 1,000 customers served throughout a year, only 5 to 10 percent have allowed the chimney to fill with creosote to a dangerous point.
    Page 2 of 2 - Carlisle Fire Company spokesman Ryan Knowles also said that improper cleaning of chimneys leads to an increase in fires in the winter.
    “The inside of the chimney is filled with soot from previous fires and it only has two places to go: out the top or through the fireplace and into the house,” he said.
    Knowles said that of the 32 heating-related structure fires in 2012, 18 were chimney or fireplace related. The other eight incidents were related to heaters, oil, forced hot air, gas or propane, and none caused enough damage to completely destroy the house.
    For those without fireplaces, space heaters are often the choice to supplement heating, and can also pose safety threats. Chionchio recommends replacing electric space heaters every three years, not using extension cords and making sure that any flammable items are at least three feet away.
    He recommends also turning space heaters off when leaving the house, and checking with the consumer product safety commission at www.cpsc.gov to run any appliance through the database for possible recalls.
    While space heaters can help supplement furnace or baseboard heating, they can also rack up electric bills. For some helpful tips on how to save on electricity in the winter, visit www.cityofmilford.com or stop by City Hall to pick up a brochure on energy saving tips.
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