With frigid temperatures in the forecast, the Rhode Island Division of State Fire Marshal reminds Rhode Islanders that heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires and death – especially during the cold winter months of December, January and February.
Nearly 46,000 home heating fires occur each year in the United States, according to statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These fires result in approximately 205 deaths and 725 injuries per year, as well as more than $500 million in property losses.
Acting Fire Marshal James Gumbley said the risk of injury and death from home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning increases during severe cold weather, when people are more likely to seek alternative heating sources to stay warm. That is why he is offering the following safety tips and reminders.
"The single most important step people can take to protect themselves is to make sure they have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms," said Acting Fire Marshal James Gumbley. "These devices are proven to save lives in the event of a fire or buildup of deadly carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that is known as the invisible killer."
Marshal Gumbley said smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms should be located on every level of the home, including the basement. Smoke alarms also should be installed inside bedrooms, especially when people sleep with their bedroom doors closed, and outside all sleeping areas. Both types of alarms should be tested at least once a month and replaced if not working properly or more than 10 years old.
Here are some other important safety tips from the U.S. Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Administration and other public safety agencies:
• Keep flammable materials at least three feet from any heat source or equipment, including the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable heater.
• Never use an oven or stove to heat a home.
• Do not use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, garage or basement.
• Use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks and embers from escaping. Ashes should be allowed to cool and then placed in metal containers a safe distance from your home.
• Keep portable heaters away from walls, furniture, curtains and flammable materials. Never use extension cords and do not plug more than one portable heater into an outlet.
• Turn off portable heaters when leaving the house or going to bed.
Marshal Gumbley noted that four out of every five deaths in fires attributed to heating systems are caused by portable heaters, which are responsible for about one-third of all home heating fires.
"Given the cold temperatures ahead, we urge all Rhode Islanders to remember to stay safe while they're trying to stay warm," Marshal Gumbley said.