With the string of sub zero days this winter and more people looking for ways to keep warm, the chances of incidents related to heating homes can rise.
“If more people are increasing use, there is an increased chance of related dangers,” Rhinelander Fire Chief Terry Williams said. “Certainly the more you use something, the more you see it.”
The dangers associated with heating homes included chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and fires caused by old space heaters.
To decrease the risk of chimney fires, Williams said it is important to take a few preventative steps.
“The biggest thing is to always burn dry wood,” he said. “That will decrease the amount of creosote that can build up in chimneys and catch fire. That is a good reason to also have your chimney cleaned periodically.”
Williams said if the occupant is new to the home, they should have their chimney inspected.
“It is a good idea to have a home that is new to you inspected by a professional service,” he said. “They can check to make sure the chimney and the fire box are sound without cracks and breaks that can let the heat and fire out into the rest of the structure.”
Space heaters are another area that could cause house fires.
“If you use a space heater, make sure you use a modern space heater,” Williams said. “These are made where they have a kill switch if they get tipped over and get too hot. Old space heaters if they tip over on a fire source will just keep putting out heat on that fire source.”
And if a fire starts, the cold weather outside means the fire department needs to take extra steps to be sure they are safe and their equipment keeps working.
“We just always need to make sure the water keeps running through the hoses,” Williams said. “And make sure our pumps keep working. Moving water is less likely to freeze that water that is sitting still.”
The freezing temperatures can also mean a more dangerous situation for firefighters that may have to enter a structure as the ice build up can strain a fire damaged building.
“The added weight of the ice affects the structure and having guys go into the house you have more danger,” Williams said. “You also have to be concerned about ice falling off the house.”
While a building fire may prove more challenging in the cold, another winter danger is less noticeable. Carbon Monoxide poisoning can be a serious issue. But Williams said it is not usually from a furnace that carbon monoxide is an issue.
“As long as your furnace is in good condition and has a good air exchange you shouldn’t have a problem,” Williams said. “Where carbon monoxide is an issue is when people turn on their car to heat it up in an attached garage that is not ventilated and the carbon monoxide gets into the house.”
Williams said the use of propane or kerosene heaters can lead to higher carbon monoxide levels.
“Anything that is not vented will produce carbon monoxide,” Williams said.
Depending on the levels of carbon monoxide in the home, determines how quickly the gas will affect those breathing it in.
“It really goes by the concentration of carbon monoxide in the air,” Williams said. “Even a low concentration, you could see symptoms.”
Symptoms include headache, dizziness, red skin and nausea. Those who experience symptoms should get to fresh air quickly and call 911.
Medical responders also have to deal with the cold weather when transporting patients.
“Our main goal is to keep the patient warm,” Williams said. “We want to get them into the back of the ambulance which is warm but getting them there, we need to make sure we have enough blankets on hand.”
Williams said extraction equipment and other gear are unaffected by the cold weather.
“All that is not affected,” he said. “Our guys are cold and we want to make sure the patient stays warm but other than that, the cold doesn’t affect us.”