The Chief’s Corner

By Robert W. Seltzer, BSEE, EFO, MPA Chief Smithfield Fire Dept.

The threat of winter fires is real.

890 people die in winter home fires each year.
$2 billion in property loss occurs each year from winter home fires.
Winter home fires account for only 8 percent of the total number of fires in the U.S., but result in 30 percent of all fire deaths.
Cooking is the leading cause of all winter home fires.
A heat source too close to combustibles is the leading factor contributing to the start of a winter home fire (15 percent).
5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is the most common time for winter home fires.

To avoid being a statistic during this year’s winter season, please consider the following,

Use your fireplace safely. Always use a metal or heat-tempered glass screen when using your fireplace.
Make sure your space heater has an automatic shut-off. If it tips over, it shuts off.
Stay fire safe this winter as you heat your home. Keep wood stove doors closed unless adding wood or pellets or stoking the fire.
Keep snow and ice 3 feet away from fire hydrants. In case of fire, firefighters need to be able to get to the hydrants quickly to protect people and property.

The importance of having a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm in your home cannot be overstated. Of equal importance, you should understand CO poisoning.

Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

Shortness of breath

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

Mental confusion
Loss of muscular coordination
Loss of consciousness
Ultimately death

Learn what you can do to protect your family from the dangers of CO.

Install and maintain CO alarms inside your home to provide early warning of CO.
Install CO alarms in a central location outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home.
Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows and vents.
Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.