Staying warm and safe

FDFD offers holiday, winter advice

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Fort Dodge firefighter Devon Schuster examines the lights on the department’s Christmas tree. Those putting up Christmas trees should check to see they have the proper lights in order to prevent fires this winter.

As the holiday season continues and colder weather becomes common, the Fort Dodge Fire Department is reminding the public to take precautions to make sure they stay safe from fires and other dangers.

Lenny Sanders, assistant Fort Dodge fire chief, said house fires are most common during the months of December, January and February.

“A lot of it does come back to heating,” Sanders said.

According to statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, half of all home heating fires happen in those three months.

One of the easiest ways to prevent home fires is by taking care when using space heaters.

“No. 1, space heaters are a huge cause of fire,” Sanders said. “Make sure that anything that can burn is kept at least three feet away from them. Make sure that you don’t use an extension cord with them. They to go directly into the outlets.”

Sanders added that, if people use space heaters, they shouldn’t leave them alone while they’re on.

“And make sure that they have an automatic shut-off, so that if it tips over, it shuts off,” he said, adding that space heaters should only be used to heat small areas, not entire rooms.

“It’s OK to use one to take the chill off, but you’re not going to heat an entire room or a house with space heaters,” he said. “No. 1, it’s not a very effective way. The electricity bill would be outrageous. And No. 2, it’s just not that safe.”

Sanders said people should also take care around Christmas trees.

Live Christmas trees should be watered all the time, and heat sources should be kept away from them.

“As soon as you can, after the holidays, get that natural tree out of the house,” Sanders added.

While Christmas trees don’t cause very many fires, Sanders said, when it does happen, one out of 32 times somebody dies in a Christmas tree-caused fire.

Additionally, when putting lights on the tree, it’s important to check the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands to connect.

Sanders also stressed the importance of having furnaces inspected, not just for fires, but also to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Anytime you’re using gas-fired appliances or gas-fired utilities, there’s an opportunity for carbon monoxide,” he said. “We need to make sure that our flue coming off the furnace and water heater is unobstructed.”

Many high-efficiency furnaces are built in a way that they won’t turn on if there’s an obstruction.

“It’s easy for snow to blow into the discharge and block that, so make sure that’s free as well,” he said. “The good thing is if that’s blocked, it simply won’t fire in most cases.”

Fire prevention around the holiday season is mostly about common sense, Sanders said.

“Make sure you have combustibles away from heat sources,” he said. “If you have a natural Christmas tree, make sure to keep heat away from it. Make sure it’s got water all the time.”

Carbon monoxide safety

Tips provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Fire Administration

• Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms inside your home to provide early warning of carbon monoxide.

• Install carbon monoxide alarms in a central location outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home.

• Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows and vents.

• Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.

Christmas tree safety

Tips provided by the U.S. Fire Administration

• Natural trees should be cut at a 45-degree angle at the base and placed in water.

• Place tree away from sources of heat.

• Use only non-flammable decorations.

• Use only lighting evaluated by a nationally-recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

• Inspect lights for frayed wire or other defects before use.

• Do not leave lights on unattended.

• Keep natural tree stands filled with water at all times.

• When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly.