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State Fire Marshal urges home heating safety


Bitter temps continue to grip Michigan


With the winter of 2019 wearing on with increasingly frigid temperatures, State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer urges fire safety for all Michiganders, especially the elderly who are most at risk when it comes to fire.

“It is so important to talk about fire safety with our parents, grandparents, friends or neighbors. Last year 63 percent of the 136 fire fatalities in Michigan involved adults over the age of 40,” said Sehlmeyer. “Start with making sure they have working smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide detector. Go over fire safety practices and develop a fire escape plan with them. These are things that will increase your ability to escape and survive a fire.”

Of the 104 fatal fires in Michigan in 2018, 60 percent of the fires started in a bedroom or living room.

Many of the fatal fires in 2018 involved space heaters, wood stoves, fire places and overloaded electric wiring. Due to the rise in fire deaths in 2018 and the fact that last January was one of the deadliest months for fatal fires, the fire marshal requests that Michiganders think about ways to prevent fires and implement control methods in their home.

Sehlmeyer said that non-working or missing smoke alarms was a common reason many people did not receive early warning or delayed their escape efforts during 104 fatal residential fires in Michigan in 2018. Having working smoke alarms may reduce the risk of dying in a fire by as much as 60 percent. 

“Install smoke alarms in every occupied sleeping area and on every level of the home. Many new smoke alarms have the ability to interconnect smoke alarms, so when one sounds all smoke alarms sound,” said Sehlmeyer. “Test every smoke alarm monthly and change batteries annually if your smoke alarm operates with a 9-volt battery. For the deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing smoke alarms that use a flashing light or a bed shaker device to alert them of a fire emergency.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, adults over age 65 are more than twice as likely to die in fires. Seniors over age 85 are more than four times as likely to die in a fire. Older adults are at higher risk because their ability to respond to or escape a fire is often slower due to physical limitations.

Many precautions can be taken to help increase your ability to survive or prevent a fire this winter, including:

Home safety tips:

• Clear snow away from all exterior doors so you can get out fast in the event of an emergency.

• Whether living in a single-family dwelling, apartment, or mobile home, make sure it has multiple smoke alarms. This includes smoke alarms in each sleeping area and one on each level of your home.

• Interconnect smoke alarms when possible, so when one alarm sounds, all the smoke alarms sound.

• Make sure every smoke alarm is tested monthly.

• Replace 9-volt batteries in smoke alarms at least once per year.

• Never remove or disable smoke alarms.

• Close bedroom doors when you sleep to separate yourself from fire, heat and toxic smoke.

• Make sure kids and the elderly in your home know the sound of the smoke alarm.

• Have a home fire escape plan that the entire family has practiced that includes having two ways out of every room as well as a meeting place outside the house. Also make sure that you can open and get out of windows and doors.

• Call 9-1-1 AFTER you exit your home, if your smoke alarm(s) or carbon monoxide (CO) alarm(s) are sounding.

• Install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home to alert you of high levels of CO.

• Never use the range or oven as a source to heat for your home. The oven not only is a potential fire hazard, it can become a source of high levels of carbon monoxide.

Space Heater Safety:

• Space heaters need to be plugged directly into an electrical outlet

• Never use an extension cord with a space heater.

• If you buy a space heater, make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch.

• Never use an electric space heater in a bathroom or other areas where it may come in contact with water.

• Keep kids and pets three feet away from space heaters and turn them off when leaving a room or going to bed.

• Keep furniture, blankets and other household objects at least three feet away from a space heater.

Methods of Heating Safety:

• Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional install wood burning stoves.

• All fuel-burning equipment must be vented to the outside to avoid a build-up of carbon monoxide (CO) inside the home.

• If you smell natural gas or propane near your furnace or your gas heater, do not try to light the appliance. Leave the home immediately, call 9-1-1 and request the fire department and/or gas company respond to your home.

• If using a space heater that requires kerosene or propane, always use the correct fuel specified by the manufacturer and take the heater outside of the home to re-fuel or change tanks.

• Make sure the fireplace and wood stove have a sturdy screen to stop sparks and embers from flying into the room.

• Keep home furnishings, blankets and other objects at least three feet away from fireplaces, and wood burning stoves.

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