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Fire department offers safety advice for home heating systems

BRATTLEBORO—Winter brings both cold temperatures and the stark reality that home fires are the single most common disaster across the country.

Heating fires are the leading cause of home fires in Vermont. Many of these fires can be prevented through proper maintenance and proper use of heating equipment. As conventional energy sources — such as oil, electricity, and propane — rise and fall in price and availability, alternative heating becomes more attractive and, with it, the potential for residential heating fires.

With these statistics in mind, the Brattleboro Fire Department urges residents to take these simple steps to help ensure that your home is safe for you and your family throughout the heating season.

• Keep all combustibles at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.

• All heating appliances should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

• Never use your oven to heat your home.

• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters, or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.

• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home. Never put ashes in a paper or plastic bag, no matter how cool you think they are.

Working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are the most important device you can have in your home.

Smoke detectors cut the chance of dying in a fire in half by providing essential early warning of a problem so you and your family can safely escape. There should be a smoke detector on each level of your home and one in each bedroom.

Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors provide early warning of a problem. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels from heating appliances, water heaters, clothes dryers, emergency generators, temporary cooking appliances or space heaters and motor vehicles running in attached garages or adjacent to a building.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic flu symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. Higher levels of exposure can result in disorientation, drowsiness, unconsciousness and death.

For more information on fire safety, call the Fire Department at 802-254-4831.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #136 (Wednesday, January 25, 2012).

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