PLATTSBURGH — On Jan. 5, a mobile home in the Town of Plattsburgh was destroyed after people inside attempted to thaw frozen pipes with a heating device, eventually sparking a fire.
It’s not uncommon in the winter for fire departments to receive more calls for structure fires due to heating devices being improperly used.
“We find people are improperly supplying electricity to them, overloading circuits,” Plattsburgh City Fire Department Chief Scott Lawliss said. “You should only really have one heating device plugged into an outlet, and you have to make sure that outlet has the capabilities to handle that.”
Although it is less common in the city than it is in the surrounding area, Lawliss said, firefighters also respond to fires from wood stoves or chimneys.
Lawliss said it’s important that heating appliances are kept three feet away from drapes or anything else flammable, that they are kept on level ground and not carpets or drapes, that kids or pets do not play around them in case the appliance is knocked over, and that if an extension cord is necessary, that it is a properly rated one that is capable of handling a heating device.
“Some people plug in a very small and cheap extension cord and that will overheat,” Lawliss said.
And if a fire is started, people should find a safe space to account for everyone in the home and leave, then inform a dispatcher through 911 or the first arriving emergency crew of who, if anyone, is still in the building, Lawliss said.
“That will change their tactics in how to mitigate the fire,” he said.
Another danger to consider when heating a home during the winter, Lawliss said, is carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless, but deadly gas.
“Sometimes when the power goes out, people want to heat their house and have a generator but put it inside. Never do that,” Lawliss said. “Heating up with a gas stove, you don’t want to do that. That will cause carbon monoxide.”
Lawliss added that people should make sure their carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors are properly working to avoid an emergency.
New York’s consumer protection division is also reminding people of heating hazards during the winter, saying the season can pose the most risk for carbon monoxide and fire danger.
“As the temperatures drop, consumers may turn to dangerous heating alternatives to stay warm,” the Division of Consumer Protection said in an alert. “Propane heaters, generators, space heaters and/or outdoor grills all pose lethal risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards when used improperly.”
About 430 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, the DCP said, with more than 50,000 seeking medical treatment related to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The DCP said people can lessen the buildup of carbon monoxide in homes with fireplaces by opening the damper before lighting a fire and keeping it open until ashes are cool.
“Never use a gas range or oven to warm up a home. Never leave a vehicle running while parked in a garage attached to a home, even if the windows are open,” the DCP said. “Have vehicles’ mufflers and tailpipes checked on a regular basis to prevent accidental CO build-up.”
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