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State Fire Marshal Urges Fire Safety this Winter

Use caution with space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces

Media Contact: LARA Communications 517-373-9280

January 22, 2018 - State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer today urges Michiganders to focus on fire safety due to an increase in fatal fires in the first month of 2018. As of Jan. 17, 15 Michiganders have died in residential fires across the state. This is up from nine fire fatalities recorded for the entire month of January 2017. 

Each year we see an increase in residential fires during the winter months caused by space heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces and overloaded electric wiring. Due to the rise in fire deaths this month, the fire marshal requests that Michiganders think about ways to prevent fires and implement control methods to increase their safety if a fire occurred at their home.

“Each winter, the inappropriate use, carelessness, and accidents using alternative heating methods have been the cause of many residential fires and fire deaths in Michigan. While all of these methods of heating are acceptable if used correctly, the incorrect use of some heating methods is a major contributing factor in residential fires and home fire fatalities,” said Sehlmeyer. “Simply put, safety precautions must be taken with any of these heating methods to prevent deadly consequences.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of home heating fires are reported during the months of December, January and February across the nation, and Michigan is no exception.   

Home safety tips:

  • Clear snow away from all exterior doors so you can get out fast in the event of an emergency.
  • Whether living in a single-family dwelling, apartment, or mobile home, make sure it has multiple smoke alarms. This includes smoke alarms in each sleeping area and one on each floor.
  • Interconnect smoke alarms so when one alarm sounds, all the smoke alarms sound.
  • Make sure that all of your smoke alarms are tested monthly.
  • Replace 9-volt batteries in smoke alarms at least once per year.
  • Never remove or disable smoke alarms.
  • Close bedroom doors while you sleep to separate yourself from the fire, heat and toxic smoke. 
  • Make sure the kids and elderly in your home know the sound of the smoke alarm.
  • Have a home fire escape plan that the entire family has practiced that includes having two (2) ways out of every room as well as a meeting place outside the house. Also make sure that you can open and get out of windows and doors.
  • Call 9-1-1 AFTER you exit your home, if your smoke alarm(s) or carbon monoxide (CO) alarm(s) are sounding.
  • Install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home to alert you of high levels of CO.
  • Never use the range or oven as a source to heat for your home. The oven not only is a potential fire hazard, it can become a source of high levels of carbon monoxide.

Space Heater Safety:

  • Never use an extension cord with a space heater.
  • If you buy a space heater, make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch.
  • Never use an electric space heater in a bathroom or other areas where it may come in contact with water.
  • Keep kids and pets a safe distance away from space heaters and turn them off when leaving a room or going to bed.
  • Keep home furnishings, blankets and other objects at least three feet away from a space heater.   

Wood Burning Stoves and Fireplace Safety:

  • Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional install wood burning stoves. All fuel-burning equipment must be vented to the outside to avoid a build-up of carbon monoxide (CO) inside the home.
  • If you smell natural gas or propane near your furnace or your gas heater, do not try light the appliance. Leave the home immediately, call 9-1-1 and request the fire department and/or gas company respond to your home.
  • If using a space heater that requires fuel, always use the fuel specified by the manufacturer and re-fuel the heater outside of the home. 
  • Make sure the fireplace and wood stove have a sturdy screen to stop sparks and embers from flying into the room.
  • Keep home furnishings, blankets and other objects at least three feet away from fireplaces, and wood burning stoves.  

NOTE: When cleaning out your fireplace and stove, all ashes and coals should be placed in a metal container. Never place a metal container containing ashes and coals in your garage, on a porch or deck to cool. The metal ash and coal container should be moved outside of your home and placed at least three feet from any other buildings.   

Help your fire department. Make sure snow is cleared from the fire hydrants to make them clearly visible and accessible.

According to Sehlmeyer, the peak time for a residential fire fatality to occur is between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when most families are sleeping. 

"When a fire occurs, get out quick and stay out. Escape first, closing doors behind you as you leave by door or window. Quickly gather at your meeting place and then notify the fire department by calling 9-1-1 from a safe location," said Sehlmeyer. "Your firefighters are specially trained and equipped to rescue your family and pets, as well as to protect your possessions. Help your firefighters by remaining together outside the home and directing them to endangered family."

Visit the Bureau of Fire Services website for more fire safety information.
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