2013-02-22 / In the Know

Consider these winter fire safety tips

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

During the winter months, particularly after a storm like our recent blizzard, it is important to follow some basic winter fire safety tips.

Emergency access and egress leads the list. If you have an emergency that requires fire, police, or EMS it is very important that we have adequate access to get to you. That means the driveway and walkways are clear so first responders don’t have to shovel their way in, wasting precious time that could be better spent resolving your emergency.

Every home should have at least two remote means of egress. That means two different ways to leave in case you have a fire or some other type of emergency that requires immediate evacuation.

After a storm that left 4-foot to 5-foot drifts around town it is common to see many homes that don’t have proper egress.

Are your front door and steps shoveled and is there a path beyond the steps where you can safely and quickly get away from the house and meet the fire department near your driveway or mailbox at the designated meeting space you identified in your home evacuation and safety plan? How about your back door?

It is very easy to get lazy and fail to shovel the secondary steps and doors that aren’t routinely used during the winter, but that is the very means of egress you may need to use in an emergency.

Once you get out of the house, are you up to your waist in snow, or do you have a shoveled path where you can quickly and safely evacuate a safe distance away?

During the blizzard, and for many days afterwards, the fire department responded to a number of calls for carbon monoxide (CO) problems.

The vast majority of these were due to direct vent heating appliances with blocked exhaust vents due to drifting snow that hadn’t been removed. Many heaters are vented directly through the wall where they are installed. It is critically important that the vents remain clear so they function properly.

If the vent becomes blocked the byproducts of combustion, including CO, will back up into the home possibly causing illness and even death if concentrations are high enough.

When you’re clearing a safe egress path after the next snow storm, make sure to check your exhaust vents to confirm they are clear of snow or other restrictions. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless so it is critical that you install and routinely test a CO detector in your home to alert you if concentrations are unsafe.

Carbon monoxide kills because human senses can’t detect it because you can’t see or smell it. Please take a few minutes after each snowstorm to make sure your house is in order, and while you’re at it, check on your neighbors and family members. The life you save by following these winter fire safety tips may be your own.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue please contact me at mthurl@ ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201. B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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