Heating the home safely this winter

In the depths of winter, state officials are urging Michiganders stay safe while staying warm, especially the elderly who are most at risk when it comes to fire.

“To protect our most vulnerable residents, the State Fire Marshal and I urge all Michiganders to learn and practice basic fire safety tips,” said Orlene Hawks, director of the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA. “Working with your family to come up with a fire escape plan is of the utmost importance.”

Last year, 73% of the 102 fire fatalities in Michigan involved adults older than 40. Of the 88 fatal fires in Michigan in 2019, the majority of the fires started in a bedroom at night. Among the top causes of fatal fires in 2019 were heating and electrical issues involving space heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces and overloaded electrical wiring.

Having working smoke alarms may reduce the risk of dying in a fire by as much as 60%, officials said.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, adults over age 65 are more than twice as likely to die in fires. Seniors over age 85 are more than four times as likely to die in a fire. Older adults are at higher risk because their ability to respond to or escape a fire is often slower due to physical limitations.

Many precautions can be taken to help increase the ability to survive or prevent a fire this winter, including —

Home safety tips:

— Clear snow away from all exterior doors so you can get out fast in the event of an emergency.

— Make sure your home has multiple smoke alarms, including smoke alarms in each sleeping area and one on each level of your home.

— Interconnect smoke alarms when possible, so when one alarm sounds, all the smoke alarms sound.

— Make sure every smoke alarm is tested monthly and replace 9-volt batteries in smoke alarms at least once per year.

— Never remove or disable smoke alarms.

— Close bedroom doors when you sleep to separate yourself from fire, heat and toxic smoke.

— Make sure kids and the elderly in your home are familiar with the sound of the smoke alarm.

— Have a home fire escape plan that the entire family has practiced that includes having two 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.

— Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home to alert you of high levels of CO.

— Call 911 AFTER you exit your home, if your smoke alarms or carbon monoxide alarms are sounding.

— 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:

— Space heaters need to be plugged directly into an electrical outlet.

— Never use an extension cord with a space heater.

— Make sure your space heater 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 3 feet away from space heaters and turn them off when leaving a room or going to bed.

— Keep furniture, blankets and other household objects at least 3 feet away from a space heater.

Methods of heating safety:

— 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 inside.

— 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 911 and request the fire department and/or gas company respond.

— If using a space heater that requires kerosene or propane, always use the correct fuel specified by the manufacturer and take the heater outside of the home to re-fuel or change tanks.

— 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.