Cold weather increases house fire risk

Clarissa Kell | Daily Press Gladstone Public Safety Officer Mike Willemsen stands next to one of the fire trucks in the Gladstone Public Safety Department building Monday. Home heating and the upcoming holiday season bring an increased risk of house fires.

GLADSTONE — Winter is coming and residents need to prepare for the heating season and what comes with it — house fires.

Gladstone Public Safety Officer Mike Willemsen provided some safety tips and advice to area residents on keeping safe this winter and every season.

Willemsen said some things homeowners can do is to keep their dryer vents clean and to get their furnaces inspected regularly.

“If you burn wood in your home, I would make sure the chimney’s clean,” Willemsen said.

He also said space heaters can be dangerous because things can fall on top of them or they could get tipped over by kids.

“I would be careful about overloading your outlets, especially during Christmas time with lights,” Willemsen said.

He said overloading outlets and dry Christmas trees can be a recipe for disaster, too.

Leaving candles unattended in the house can also cause fires, so Willemsen said residents should not fall asleep with candles lit or put candles in a location in the home where the flame could catch onto something.

“We’ve been to fires for all of those things — chimney fires, dryer vents, overloaded outlets, things like that,” Willemsen said.

He said something that may occur in the winter is a furnace breaking. Willemsen advised when that occurs for people to not use their oven to heat their home or apartment because it is dangerous and could lead to a fire.

Willemsen said fires caused by dryer vents, overloaded outlets and unattended candles can happen year-round, so residents should periodically test their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and to regularly change the batteries.

He also said residents should make a safety plan for their home in case of a fire. Willemsen said a safety plan is important so everyone in the house knows how to get out and where their safe meeting place is outside. He advised if a child is old enough and able, parents should teach them to call 911. Children should know how to call 911 and their address in case of an emergencies, he said.

“There are ladders you can get that you can put out a window, too, out of a second floor window,” Willemsen said. “That is something people can look into if they have a two-story home.”

When it comes to apartment dwellers, he said tenants should make sure smoke alarms work and to know all of the exits out of the building.

“Basically the same things as a house, you know. If you have a dryer make sure it’s clean,” Willemsen said.

If people who live in an apartment think there are issues with their furnace or if they feel it isn’t safe, he said they should contact their landlord right away.

“I wouldn’t let it go,” Willemsen said. “I would let the landlord know.”

With snow inevitably coming, Willemsen said people should also make sure snow doesn’t get piled up on their furnace or dryer vents because it could lead to a carbon dioxide buildup in the home.

If a fire does occur in your home, unless it is a small fire that can be contained with a fire extinguisher, the best option is to leave the home and call 911 right away.

“Fires can spread so fast,” Willemsen said. “And smoke becomes deadly very quick too.”

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