For those who have lived in northern Wisconsin long enough, adapting to cold weather becomes second-nature, but it can be easy to forget some of the little things.
Cold weather affects every aspect of daily life, even things as simple as being safe in your home.
Deputy Chief Josh Schmitz of the Rhinelander Fire Department said they respond to a lot of winter fires that could easily have been avoided.
“People are using heating appliances,” he said. “People using space heaters, it’s important to have your space heater UL listed.”
UL means Underwriters’ Laboratories, a research company that tests safety factors of consumer products.
“If they’re certified that it’s safe… that is they tip over they’ll shut off by themselves,” Schmitz said. “If they’re not they could tip against something and start a fire.”
Making sure fireplaces and chimneys are cleaned was another tip, as well as keeping plants and things that can dry out well-watered.
“Everything is drier. They talk about Christmas trees, how much you want to keep them watered because when they’re dry they go up in seconds,” Schmitz said.
The most important thing when talking about winter safety is being prepared.
“Hopefully your family has a plan already in place,” Schmitz said. “Know your exits… Get everybody out and call 911… after that, go to a meeting place.”
“The fire doubles in size every minute, so if we’re there a couple minutes sooner it’s going to make a big difference,” he added.
Another danger that is often overlooked is carbon monoxide poisoning, which is more frequent in winter.
“This time of the year with snow drifts, snow falling off roofs can block vent pipes for your heating appliances or for the vents for the furnaces. Then carbon monoxide can back up into your house if those vents aren’t cleared. That’s a big one,” Schmitz said. “People, if they get headaches, nausea, are feeling tired a lot, if they start to feel better when they leave their home, that’s a sign that it could be carbon monoxide in your house.”
Often forgotten when preparing for winter are pets. Even though they are, in most cases, covered in hair, they are still vulnerable to below freezing temperatures.
Veterinarian Dr. Kerry Hagen with the Animal Health Care Center said safety factors are really dependent on the pet—if it’s a long-haired hunting dog who’s used to being outside, it may be able to stay outside all year.
“As long as they have shelter and they’re used to being outside, that’s the key,” Hagen said.
But she said even outside dogs should have elevated ground to sleep on, as well as a heated water bowl and extra food.
“They usually need more food, too, when it’s really cold, because their metabolism’s burning to keep them warm,” Hagen said. “So giving them a little extra food is a good idea.”
When it comes to other pets, Hagen said owners need to be more careful.
“For most house pets, if you wouldn’t want to be out there for that long then they shouldn’t be either,” she said.
Other than making sure your pet is staying warm, when letting them outside Hagen recommended checking their paws for salt and other substances they may walk through like antifreeze. Salt can create sores on their pads, and antifreeze would be toxic if the animal were to lick it off their paws following a walk.
Hagen also said they see a lot of trauma incidents in the winter. Everything from getting hit by snowmobiles to slipping on the ice.
“If you have a snowmobile trail near your house, don’t let your dog go running. Elderly dogs that are arthritic and have a hard time getting around, ice can be really challenging.” Hagen said. “I had one dog get injured by the shovel, because its owner was shoveling, and it ran in front of the shovel. Make sure if you’re snow-blowing you put your dog inside so they’re not going to get in your way.”
When the weather starts to thaw, lakes and ponds become treacherous for pets, the thinning ice a danger that needs to be looked out for.
In general, both Hagen and Schmitz said to err on the side of caution.
“It’s kind of pet specific, but if people have questions, just call their vet and ask if it doesn’t seem obvious,” Hagen said.
“There’s no hurt in calling us, you know, there’s not a charge for us to come,” Schmitz said.
Whether for your pet or yourself, one should never underestimate the dangers of winter. No matter what you’re doing, one should always plan ahead and prepare as best you can.