Cinnaminson fire chief, fire marshal warn of winter fire risks
By Stephen Finn
The winter season brings with it the holidays and cozy nights indoors surrounded by candles and warm fireplaces. Although all of these things can enhance one’s winter experience, it’s important to keep in mind the added fire risks that come along with them.
Candles, heating, holiday decorations and snowstorms can all contribute to increased risk of a house fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of all home heating fires happen in December, January and February. Heating equipment is also responsible for one in every seven home fires.
Cinnaminson Fire Chief William Kramer and Fire Marshal Dan Norman talked about what residents should look out for and what they can do to make sure they don’t end up one of the aforementioned statistics this winter season.
“People spend a lot more time indoors than any other time of the year,” said Kramer. “You have a lot of festivities with cooking, you have holiday candles and Christmas lighting. That all leads to additional possibilities.”
Kramer relates the rise in home fires during the winter to the flu, which spreads faster among people who are indoors in close proximity to other people.
The holidays bring with them a lot of added fire risk. There tends to be more clutter around the house than usual, which, if placed in the wrong spot, can lead to potential problems. According to Kramer and Norman, flammable objects placed too close to space heaters or radiators are a leading cause of household fires in winter.
“People move stuff around in winter, especially Christmas time, things can be stored too close to a heater,” said Norman.
In January, Christmas trees begin to wilt and become more of a risk as they dry out. Kramer suggests residents get rid of their trees early in the month rather than keeping one wilting in the living room.
As holiday decorations come down, Kramer and Norman ask that residents double check their lights to make sure there are no defects, like frayed or broken wires, before packing them away for next season.
Though power outages can occur any time throughout the year, many people keep a portable generator handy in the winter in case they lose power during a snowstorm.
“The biggest issue with those is carbon monoxide and not running them inside. Every time we have a disaster around the country whether it’s a hurricane or blizzard, we always hear about people using generators inside and getting carbon monoxide poisoning and you end up with fatalities,” said Kramer.
The National Fire Protection Association suggests keeping generators at least six feet away from the home. Just like one would with a lawn mower, Kramer also urges residents to shut portable generators off before refueling them.
Carbon monoxide detectors should be checked and replaced if needed no matter the season, but given increased risk resulting from more frequent use of gas heating during colder months, residents should be extra vigilant.
“Five to seven years is the life expectancy of a carbon monoxide alarm so if they haven’t replaced one in the past five years they should look at replacing it,” said Kramer.
Residents with fireplaces and chimneys should take extra measures during the winter to make sure they are being as safe as possible.
“Keeping them cleaned is the biggest issue,” said Norman.
“Not burning trash, not burning soft woods, like pine, burning only clean wood and making sure the chimney is clean,” added Kramer.
Snowy road conditions not only can make it harder for emergency personnel to get to the scene of a call, they can also make it more difficult for them to find the correct address. According to Kramer and Norman, residents should make sure their house number is clearly visible from the street and not covered by ice or snow.
Fire hydrants can easily become blanketed under a layer of snow as well. When residents shovel their properties, they should also make sure they clear snow away from hydrants so they can be easily accessed in case of an emergency.
“That will slow us down more than anything, trying to find a water supply,” said Kramer. “We carry 700 gallons of water on these rigs so you’re looking at about five minutes of use and you’re out of water, so it’s imperative that we find a fire hydrant.”
If residents have additional questions or need assistance checking or changing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, Kramer encourages them to call the station at (856) 829–5220.