By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Winter is in full swing now, and the leading months for home fires in the U.S. are December, January and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Between Dec. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, Bristol had 13 structure fires, some of which started off as small kitchen fires, according to the Bristol Fire Department’s Marshall Office. Other causes of those fires were electrical issues and heating equipment.
Heating, candles, cooking and holiday decorations all increase the risk of a fire during the winter months, reports NFPA. In order to stay safe this season, here are some safety tips recommended by the Bristol Fire Department.
Fire Chief Jay Kolakoski said most fires take place in two-family homes, most of which decorate for the holidays and use supplemental heating devices.
•Install at least one carbon monoxide detector.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is lighter than air, meaning it tends to move in an upward direction. CO is produced by the burning of any fuels that are carbon based, such as home heating oil, natural gas, fire wood, wood pellets, gasoline, kerosene and plastics. Signs of overexposure to abnormally high levels of CO include dizziness, headache, nausea, blurred vision, shortness of breath, confusion and flu-like symptoms.
This time of year, the fire department responds to a substantial number of CO incidents in Bristol.
“Everyone should have at least one carbon monoxide detector in their home, preferably one on every level of living and outside of the sleeping rooms of the house,” said Kolakoski, adding that people should also have a fire alarm installed on each level of their home. “Without a carbon monoxide detector you’re not going to know you have a carbon monoxide problem unless someone gets ill.”
The biggest cause for CO often occurs when a car is running in a garage. A good habit is to leave the garage door open for a few minutes before backing a vehicle out. Kolakoski advised never to allow a vehicle to stay idle inside a garage. Even starting a vehicle in a garage and moving it outside right away can cause dangerous amounts of CO to accumulate in a home over time.
•Make sure all heating devices are maintained.
One measure residents can take to reduce the risk of CO buildup in the home is regularly maintaining all fuel burning devices.
Kolakoski said a common mistake people make are not properly maintaining their heating systems appropriately at home. A trained and certified technician should check and maintain these systems. Supplemental heating devices, such as wood, gas or pellet stoves should be installed by professionals and checked at least once a year for proper operation.
“People have to make sure that whatever system they’re using for heating is well-maintained,” said Kolakoski. “We recommend at least manual inspection and service by a licensed technician and any installation should be done by a licensed technician or service person.”
Another thing people tend to use are space of heaters, which can be dangerous depending on where they are located, warned Kolakoski. Those heaters must be at least three feet away from any combustible surface, which include furnishings, wood burning stoves, etc. In addition, any fuel burning space heaters are not allowed in the city of Bristol, including kerosene heaters.
Likewise, residents should maintain their chimney appropriately, making sure it is clean. Depending on the appliance, chimneys and flue pipes also should be inspected and cleaned at least annually. They also should be kept clear of accumulating snow and other obstructions.
“People who burn a lot of wood might have to clean their chimney twice a year,” said Kolakoski.
•Cook with caution.
Never leave a stove unattended for fire safety and child safety. When baking, always use a timer as a reminder there is something in the oven.
“Over the past two years, we’ve had at least one death attributed with a cooking fire,” said Fire Marshal Robert Grimaldi.
•Be safe around candles.
Blow out all candles when leaving a room, and keep them at least 12 feet away from any combustibles, including the stovetop. Also make sure candles are held in a sturdy candle holder.
•Prevent your Christmas tree from catching fire.
Between 2009 and 2013, fire departments nationwide responded to an estimated average of 210 home structure fires per year that began with Christmas trees, reports NFPA. The lead causes of these fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment. Any lighting used for the tree should be listed by underwriters laboratories and approved for use, said Kolakoski. Trees also should be located away from any heat sources and heating devices.
Another hazard Kolakoski has seen people do is placing candles on their trees.
“It doesn’t happen a lot, but people actually still do it,” said Kolakoski.
Kolakoski advised those with real trees to water them daily.
“Once the tree dries out, it becomes so combustible, it doesn’t take much to get a…live Christmas tree going,” said Kolakoski. “Once it burns, it burns with great intensity and spreads throughout the house quickly.”
For more information, visit the Bristol Fire Department’s page on the city’s website, http://www.ci.bristol.ct.us/.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO