In the chill of the night
Have your heating equipment checked regularly.
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2008
Fore most of the year, I love New England. The summers are beautiful. The fall foliage is spectacular. Then winter comes along, as is its habit, and I start asking myself why I live in New England, as is my habit. Last winter I asked myself this question when my house would not warm up, no matter how high I pushed up the thermostat. My argument with the heating system continued while I worked on a school paper in the den. Then I smelled something burning. I immediately went downstairs to the kitchen thinking my husband had decided to cook something (and burned it…again).
No husband. No failed cooking attempts. From there, I followed the smoke to the basement. The basement was filled with smoke, which appeared to be coming from the furnace. Then the smoke alarms sounded and my husband and I immediately went outside and called the fire department.
Turns out our furnace had a misfiring fuel nozzle and although there was a lot of smoke, there wasn’t a fire. The fire department checked the area for carbon monoxide, etc., turned off the furnace, opened our windows, and told us to call our oil company before restarting the furnace.
The moral of my story? Have your heating equipment checked regularly. Here are just a few facts to think about over the winter months:
In 2005, U.S. fire departments responded to 62,200 home structure fires that involved heating equipment. These fires caused 670 civilian fire deaths, 1,550 civilian fire injuries, and $909 million in direct property damage.
Nearly half (44 percent) of all home heating fires occurred in December, January, and February from 2002 to 2005.
Heating equipment fires accounted for 16 percent of all reported home fires in 2005 (second only to cooking fires) and 22 percent of home fire deaths.
Chimneys and chimney connectors accounted for the largest share (36 percent) of home heating fire incidents in 2005. Failure to clean accounted for two-thirds (64 percent) of the confined chimney and chimney connector fires in 2002–2005.
As educators, we know that the winter season brings increased fire risk. To help fire departments prepare their community, NFPA has created the “Keeping Your Community Safe and Warm” Heating Safety kit. The kits, on CD, were mailed to fire departments in November and included a number of resources including press releases, community outreach ideas, talking points, and op-eds. You can find all these materials for download on NFPA’s website, www.nfpa.org.
We’ve also teamed up with the publisher Scholastic, Inc. to create a heating safety checklist and family activity kit. The information was mailed in early December to 150,000 grades two and three classroom teachers. You can download this classroom information from the Scholastic Web site at scholastic.com/firesafety.
Feel free to share this information with schools in your community.
In addition, here are just a few lifesaving messages that can help you stay safe this winter.
Keep or maintain a 3-foot (1-meter) clearance between all heating equipment and anything that can burn.
Do not use your oven to heat your home.
Inspect and maintain heating equipment regularly for safety.
Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room and before going to bed.
Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
For more safety messages and heating resources visit www.nfpa.org.
With a concerted effort to get a fire safety message out as the temperatures drop, we can reduce the number of deaths and property damage this year. Here’s to a warm and safe winter season.
Lynne Winnett is a Public Education Specialist at NFPA.