Frightful outside, delightful inside
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2007
The weather outside is frightful, and for those of us who live in areas of the United States where the winter months are downright cold, heating becomes a priority. Unfortunately, heating equipment, especially portable equipment, is a leading cause of home fires each year.
Realizing that education is the key to safe behavior when using these devices, NFPA has partnered with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to develop a consumer brochure entitled “Energy and Fire Safety Tips for the Heating Season.”
Make sure portable space heaters have the label of an independent testing laboratory and show people what the label looks like. Remember, a label on the package is not sufficient. The label must be included on the heating device itself.
When talking to people, explain the importance of the 3-foot (91-centimeter) rule: heaters must be at least 3 feet (91 centimeters) from anything that can burn, including furniture, bedding, curtains, walls, paper, and people. Ask a local hardware store, insurance agency, or some other business to donate yardsticks to distribute.
The 3-foot safety rule also applies to other heating sources, such as wood and coal stoves and fireplaces. Remind people that it’s important to allow ashes to cool before disposing of them in a metal container and to use a sturdy fireplace screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room.
Portable heaters are not designed to use power through a household extension cord., so emphasize the importance of not using an extension cord with a heater.
Remind people that portable space heaters should never be left unattended. They should be turned off every time people leave the room or go to bed. Going to bed with a portable space heater on can be dangerous, even deadly, if you accidentally throw bedcovers on top of the heater. The safest thing to do is to add more blankets and more bed clothes to stay warm throughout the night.
For some people, paying for fuel is a financial burden, but there is help available from the National Energy Assistance Referral Project. Encourage those needing assistance to call toll-free (866) 674-6327. This number, as well as hours of operation, is included in the brochure.
This time of year also gives you an opportunity to stress the importance of carbon monoxide alarms in the home. It’s peak season for fuel-burning heating sources, and these simple devices will provide early warning of dangerous carbon monoxide levels.
Smoke alarms, home escape planning, and residential sprinklers should be part of your heating discussions, too. Working smoke alarms and a well-rehearsed escape plan will help residents escape safely in case of fire; and residential sprinklers will stop a fire before it grows large enough to destroy a home. The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition provides consumer materials at www.homefiresprinkler.org.
You can hand copies of the brochure out through church groups, schools, utility bills, grocery stores, and more. Or set up a heating safety exhibit at a local mall, store, hospital, community center, or any other place people congregate. And don’t forget to use your local newspaper, cable station, or radio station to share heating safety messages. You can also ask your local fire department to help spread heating safety messages in your community, targeting high-risk areas in the community where portable space heaters may be more likely to be used in particular.
When the weather outside gets really frightful, let’s make sure all our neighbors are warm and fire-safe in their homes.
JUDY COMOLETTI is NFPA’s Assistant Vice President of Public Education.