January 29, 2021

New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services' Office of Fire Prevention and Control Urges New Yorkers to Take Precautions During Extreme Cold Weather

Alternate Heating Sources Can Pose Additional Risk of Fire and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Increased Risk of Hypothermia and Frostbite from Dangerously Cold Wind Chills Over Three-Day Period

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ Office of Fire Prevention and Control today urged all New Yorkers to protect themselves from extreme cold temperatures forecast to impact much of the state through Saturday evening and use extra caution when employing alternative heating sources during these times.  The National Weather Service forecasts dangerously cold wind chills of 20 to 30 degrees below zero at times over a three-day period, which brings the increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite, as well as risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning from alternative heating sources such as portable heaters.

“It is imperative all New Yorkers ensure the safety of themselves and their loved ones over the next couple of days when using alternate heating sources during extreme cold temperatures, which increase the risk of fires during this time of year,” said State Fire Administrator Francis Nerney.  “Extreme cold temperatures can cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin.  Limit your time outdoors, know how and where to take shelter if needed, and check in on your neighbors and loved ones to ensure they are safe.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the third leading cause of home fire deaths.  Local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 48,530 fires involving heating equipment per year in 2014-2018, accounting for 14 percent of all reported home fires during this time.  These fires resulted in annual losses of 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.  Half of the home heating fire deaths in this period were caused by placing heating equipment too close to flammable items such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding. 

Improper use of alternative heating sources also increases the risk of elevated levels of carbon monoxide.  To avoid injuries to yourself and others, when using any alternative heating source such as a space heater, fireplace, woodstove or other source, use it safely and in accordance with directions provided by the manufacturer.  Contact your local emergency management office or fire department for assistance, if needed.

 

Cold Weather Safety Tips

Staying Warm Indoors

  • If the heat goes out during cold weather, keep warm by closing off rooms you do not need.
  • Dress in layers of lightweight clothing and wear a cap.

 

Frostbite

  • To avoid frostbite, stay inside during severe cold.
  • If you must go out, try to cover every part of your body: ears, nose, toes and fingers, etc.  Mittens are better than gloves.  Keep your skin dry and stay out of the wind when possible.
  • Drink plenty of fluids since hydration increases the blood's volume, which helps prevent frostbite.  Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes – caffeine constricts blood vessels and prevents warming of extremities, alcohol reduces shivering, which helps keep you warm, and cigarette use shuts off blood flow to your hands.
  • If you suspect frostbite, until you can get indoors, don't rub or massage cold body parts.  Drink warm liquids, put on extra layers of clothes and blankets, and remove rings, watches, and anything tight.
  • Once indoors, don't walk on a frostbitten foot – you could cause more damage.  Get in a warm, NOT hot, bath and wrap your face and ears in a moist, warm – NOT hot – towel.  Don't get near a hot stove or heater or use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or a hair dryer. You may burn yourself before feeling returns.
  • Frostbitten skin will become red and swollen and feel like it's on fire. You may develop blisters. Don't break the blisters. It could cause scarring.
  • If your skin turns blue or gray, is very swollen, blistered or feels hard and numb even under the surface, go to a hospital immediately.

 

Hypothermia

  • Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, especially in children and the elderly.
  • Watch for the following symptoms: inability to concentrate, poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, exhaustion, and/or uncontrollable shivering, following by a sudden lack of shivering.
  • If a person's body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, get emergency medical assistance immediately.
  • Remove wet clothing, wrap the victim in warm blankets, and give warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids until help arrives.

 

Protecting Water Pipes

To prevent the mess and aggravation of frozen water pipes, protect your home, apartment or business by following the simple steps below.

  • When it's cold, let cold and hot water trickle at night from a faucet on an outside wall.  Open cabinet doors to allow more heat to get to un-insulated pipes under a sink or appliance near an outer wall.  Make sure heat is left on and set no lower than 55 degrees.
  • If you plan to be away, have someone check your house daily to make sure the heat is still on to prevent freezing, or drain and shut off the water system (except indoor sprinkler systems).
  • If pipes freeze, make sure you and your family know how to shut off the water, in case pipes burst. Stopping the water flow minimizes damage to your home.
  • Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch.
  • Always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.
  • Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent.

 

Be "Fire Safe"

Heating equipment is among the leading causes of home fires nationally and in New York State. Very often heating related fires are the result of a lack of maintenance or simple acts of carelessness.  Taking a few simple steps can significantly reduce the possibility of experiencing a heating related fire. No matter how careful you are with home heating, you and your family should be prepared in case fire strikes.

  • Buy and carefully maintain a quality smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
  • Inspect your home to eliminate or control fire hazards.
  • Install at least 5-pound A-B-C type fire extinguishers in the home and teach family members how to use them.
  • Establish a well-planned escape route with the entire family.
  • Hold practice fire drills until all family members are thoroughly familiar with plan.
  • If you have an older home, have the wiring checked by a qualified electrician to make sure it meets current building codes.
  • Have your chimney and fireplace cleaned and inspected yearly for creosote build-up, cracks, crumbling bricks or mortar and any obstructions.
  • Keep storage areas clean and tidy.
  • Keep curtains, towels and potholders away from hot surfaces.
  • Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. NEVER keep gasoline in the house.
  • Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs.

 

Maintain and Inspect Home Heating Appliances

Proper maintenance and an annual inspection of heat pumps, furnaces, space heaters, wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connections by qualified specialists can prevent fires and save lives. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation, venting, fueling, maintenance and repair.  Review the owner's manual to make sure you remember the operating and safety features.

Space Heaters – Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothing, rugs, and other combustibles. Avoid the use of extension cords with electric heaters. Always turn off space heaters before leaving the room or going to bed.

Fuel Burning Appliances – Inspect the shut off mechanism and wick for proper operation. Fill the tank with fresh fuel. Let the heater cool down before refueling. Adding fuel to a hot heater can start a dangerous fire.

Wood Burning Appliances and Fireplaces – Do not burn trash in the wood stove or fireplace. Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods. Be sure the fire you build fits your fireplace or stove, don't overload it. Be sure wood stoves are installed at least 36 inches away from the wall. Keep combustible materials well away from the fireplace, stove and chimney. Keep the area around them clean. Always use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from leaving the fireplace and starting a fire. Never leave a fire unattended.

Chimneys – Creosote accumulation is the leading cause of chimney fires. A chimney that is dirty, blocked or is in disrepair can inhibit proper venting of smoke up the flue and can also cause a chimney fire. Nearly all residential fires originating in the chimney are preventable. An annual chimney inspection by a qualified chimney sweep can prevent fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ashes – Keep wood stoves and fireplaces free of excess ash buildup. Excessive ash buildup prevents good circulation of air needed for combustion. When removing ashes, use a metal container with a tight-fitting cover. Always place ashes in an outside location away from structures. Ashes that seem cool may contain a smoldering charcoal that can start a fire.

 

Carbon Monoxide

  • Carbon monoxide is produced anywhere that fuel is burned and is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.
  • Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and invisible killer, and the ONLY safe way to detect it is with a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide alarms range in price from $20 to $50 depending on additional features.
  • Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include sleepiness, headaches and dizziness.
  • If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilate the area and get to a hospital.

 

Other Safety Tips

  • Make sure chimneys and vents are checked for blockages, corrosion, and loose connections.
  • Open flues completely when fireplaces are in use.
  • Use proper fuel in space heaters.
  • Never burn charcoal or a barbecue grill inside a home or enclosed space.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, or vehicle
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Never use the kitchen stove for heating a house.
  • Never run a gas-powered generator in a garage, basement, or near any overhang on the home. Keep it at a distance.

 

About the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control

The Office of Fire Prevention and Control delivers a wide breadth of services to firefighters, emergency responders, state and local government agencies, public and private colleges, and the citizens of New York. The office advances public safety through firefighter training, education, fire prevention, investigative, special operations and technical rescue programs. The delivery of these essential services enables the office to make significant contributions to the safety of all of New York State.

 

About the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services provides leadership, coordination and support for efforts to prevent, protect against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorism and other man-made and natural disasters, threats, fires and other emergencies. For more information, visit the DHSES Facebook page, follow @NYSDHSES on Twitter, or Instagram, or visit dhses.ny.gov.

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