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A winter wonderland — of safety

Household heating/cooking implements can cause havoc if misused

Posted: December 26, 2008 9:15 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Children are especially vulnerable during this time of year as their natural curiosity around open flames may result in tragedy.

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I know. You shelled out good money for that fresh-cut Christmas tree only a week ago, and you'll be darned if you're going to take it down before Jan. 2.

Understood. But remember to keep it watered and keep it far away from any sources of heat, and don't leave the house or go to bed with the tree lights on - same as before Christmas.

During the remaining holiday season, and for the rest of the winter, you must be extra vigilant about safety inside your home.

With everyone cozily tucked in, the windows sealed up to keep out the cold, and fireplaces and space heaters probably being employed to warm things up, there is increased danger from fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you're burning seasonal candles there's even more possibility of something going wrong.

We'll offer some handy tips for winter safety from the Home Safety Council - but first, let's get a reinforcement from an expert. Los Angeles County Fire Captain Tom Robertson was kind enough to take a Christmas Eve interview by telephone from local Station 126. "Most of our fires over the holidays are from candles and from fireplaces burning too hot," he said. He went on to emphasize these and other safety issues.

Space heaters
"Be sure your space heater has a ‘UL Approved' stamp or sticker. That means the appliance has gone through a specific safety test and is approved," Robertson said. "And keep the heater away from the Christmas tree or any other combustibles."

He emphasized that the main hazard with space heaters is from Christmas trees. Even if they are kept in water, the trees are probably drying out by now and are ready to burn.

Candles
"Make sure your candles are out when you go to bed," Robertson said. "People light them for a party and, afterward, forget to put them out."

He added that candles should always be kept away from decorations, curtains and packages. The same, of course, goes for fireplaces and space heaters.

The Home Safety Council encourages families to enjoy holiday candles while always keeping fire safety in mind:

* Make sure an adult is in the room and paying attention whenever you light a candle. Blow out all candles before going to sleep or leaving the room.
* Do not permit children to keep or use candles or incense in their rooms. Candles should only be used when a sober adult is present and awake.
* Never use lighted candles on or near a Christmas tree or other evergreens.
* Keep candles at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including other decorations and wrapping paper.
* Always use stable, nonflammable candle holders with a hurricane glass to protect the open flame.
* Place candles where they will not be knocked down or blown over and out of reach of pets and young children.
* If you have children in your home, store candles, matches and lighters out of their sight and reach in a locked cabinet.
* To eliminate the risk of an open candle flame, use battery-powered candles whenever possible, especially when you combine candles with greenery or other decorations.
Source: www.homesafetycouncil.org

Fireplaces
Robertson said that people should be sure to keep their fireplace screens up and/or the glass doors closed. You never know when a spark may pop out of the fire.

Beyond that he noted that fireplaces installed in newer Southern California homes are not really designed to be sources of heat.

They're more for visual aesthetics and atmosphere. "Make sure your fireplace is designed for the amount of wood you put in there," he said. Those unfamiliar with our local fireplaces may stoke the fire up too hot, which can lead to the ducts getting too hot and starting fires in attics.

Smoke and CO detectors
Robertson said that having properly operating smoke detectors in your home is a must.

When it comes to carbon monoxide, he offered this advice. "If you are concerned with carbon monoxide, the easiest thing to do is crack a window." But he added that if having a carbon monoxide detector eases your concerns, by all means use one.

CO Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that is difficult to detect because it is odorless and invisible. As a result, it is known as "the silent killer." According to the CDC, 450 people die and nearly 21,000 CO exposures occur each year.

CO is produced by fuel-burning appliances and equipment in our homes.

If you have heating, cooking or power equipment that uses fuels such as oil, natural gas, coal, wood, propane, gasoline, etc., then your home is at risk for potential CO poisoning. Homes with attached garages are also at risk, because vehicles left running in the garage can cause CO to seep into the home.

CO poisoning can be prevented by proper care and use of household equipment. CO alarms can provide early detection if CO leaks or accumulation occurs. Both are important for your safety.

If you suspect CO poisoning in your home, call the appropriate responding agency, usually your local fire department or 9-1-1. Keep all emergency response numbers posted by every telephone.

CO alarms are different from smoke alarms, and have different functions. CO alarms do not provide early warning of a fire.

Smoke alarms do not provide early warning of CO exposure. Your home needs CO and smoke alarm protection.

Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to symptoms of the flu and can include headache, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath.

To distinguish between symptoms of flu and CO poisoning - if you feel better after leaving home and then worse again when you return, it may be CO exposure causing the symptoms.

If your CO alarm sounds, check to see if it is plugged in properly, or if battery-powered, check the battery to be sure the device is operating. If you suspect that CO is leaking in your home, follow these steps:

Open windows and doors to ventilate the rooms, or in severe cases of CO exposure, evacuate the home.

Call to report that you suspect CO is accumulating. Usually the appropriate agency to call is the fire department or 9-1-1.

* Seek immediate medical treatment for anyone who has severe symptoms.

Follow the advice of the responding agency before re-entering your home, and quickly obtain repairs as needed.

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