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Winter cold heats up risk

Published: Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 12:18 p.m. CDT

By S.E. Slack

A recent audit by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson indicates that Chicago-area firefighters respond to fires within five minutes and 20 seconds about 82 percent of the time, slightly below the national standard of 90 percent. Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago disputes those numbers, saying that firefighters actually respond in 3 minutes, 35 seconds. Regardless of who is right, both sets of numbers overlook the real issue: people are at high risk of injury or death during the first minutes of a fire.

Even in traditionally warm places like North Las Vegas, the weather can turn cold enough to make a person want to turn up the heat. If your go-to heat source is a space heater or wood stove, there are critical fire safety tips to remember.

When you use space heaters, be certain to maintain a three-foot kid-free zone. Be sure your heater has an emergency shutoff that instantly activates if the heater falls over. Before use, check your heater for frayed wires or black, carbon buildup. Always plug heaters directly into an electrical outlet. While it’s tempting to use extension cords, they can quickly overheat. Turn off portable heaters when you leave the room or go to bed.

Wood stove users should only use real firewood in a wood stove. If you do use synthetic logs, only burn one at a time. Burning several synthetic logs at the same time can generate an irregular fire and discharge high levels of carbon dioxide. Always discard ashes into a metal container and place it outside with a cover, far away from your home or other combustible materials.

Remember to check your smoke alarm regularly, too. Some are dependent on electricity. If yours are, add backup batteries to your units in case your power goes out. Also install a new battery annually and test all alarms monthly.

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