Firefighters say safety a hot topic as colder weather approaches
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Nov. 28, 2006 - With the arrival of cold weather later this week will come the need for devices to keep people, pets and pipes warm. That means people will once again be dragging out heaters or feeding the fireplace.

Sulphur Springs firefighters ask that residents keep safety precautions in mind when that time comes.

"Our goal in reminding people about heaters is to keep people warm and safe," said Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Hill with Sulphur Springs Fire Department. "We want to remind them to be careful, think about where they are placing heating units, and think ahead."

Hill recommends having a qualified professional inspect central heating units before turning them on the first time each season to make sure they function properly and are properly vented.

Also, make sure homes have working smoke detectors. Hallways leading into bedrooms are ideal locations for homes with central heating. Homes with heating units, electrical or otherwise, in separate rooms are better equipped with smoke detectors in each room.

Firefighters also recommend purchasing a carbon monoxide detector for homes using natural gas or propane as heating sources. If the devices are already installed, make sure they are still functioning properly.

Also, be sure to place heaters a safe distance from bedding and other flammable materials. It is recommended that heaters of any kind be placed at least three to four feet — preferably further — from bed materials, especially in children's rooms, to avoid ignition from radiant energy, Hill reminds.

Before putting an electric heater in a bedroom, test it first to ensure it works properly. Electric heaters are generally constructed with an "anti-tipping mechanism" that is designed to automatically shut the unit off when it's tipped over. If the electric heater does not shut off as it should, or if at any place the wires are frayed or damaged, the best course of action is to get rid of it and replace it with a fully-functioning unit, the assistant fire marshal said.

Keep in mind, however, that even functioning units can be dangerous if placed too close to bedding or flammable materials, and could still potentially melt or cause quilts and other bedding to get too hot or even catch fire in the time it takes the heater to turn itself off, Hill cautions.

Also, extension cords are discouraged when plugging in electric heaters. Most extension cords are not rated for the higher electrical load of heaters and could represent a potential fire hazard. Electric heaters are better connected directly to an electrical outlet.

Homeowners with fireplaces or wood burning stoves are urged to contact professionals who handle such equipment to check to make sure there are no cracks in the mortar, they are properly ventilated, and there is no creosote build-up inside the chimney.

Kerosene heaters are not recommended for use indoors, especially in homes.

For further information regarding heaters, heating units and other prevention measures, Sulphur Springs residents can call Sulphur Springs Fire Department at 903-885-7547 to have their questions answered.

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