Winter Heating Safety: Freezing Out Winter Fires

As outside temperatures drop, houses heat up and burn injuries increase.

Death by fire is torturous, scary, and often preventable. One American dies every 2 hours and 42 minutes from a fire injury, with almost 3,000 annual deaths from residential fires. These numbers are pain-strikingly high, as burn injuries are second only to car accidents as America’s leading cause of accidental deaths. And, perhaps surprising to some, the number of patients arriving in burn injury treatment center increases during the cold, winter months.

With blizzards currently blanketing cities in snow and ice, people rely on heaters more than ever to stay warm. Tragically, these same heaters cause an estimated 50,000 house fires every year- killing 150, injuring over 500 and costing over $300 million in property damage.

In fact, residential fires are responsible for more deaths, injuries, and monetary property damage than all other fire types. Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires, second to cooking, and the most common cause of home fire deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

While understandably focused on beating the freeze, it’s imperative everyone follows strict safety guidelines when warming up their home.

Home Heating Safety Tips:
1. All flammable materials should remain at least three feet away from heating equipment including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, and portable space heaters.

2. Implement a three-foot “kid-free” zone around fires and space heaters.

3. Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected annually

4. Space heaters should never be plugged into an extension cord or power strip

5. Ensure fireplaces have a screen to stop flying sparks; cool ashes before placing in a metal container and store the container a safe distance from your home.

6. Turn space heaters off when leaving a room or going to sleep

7. Stationary heating equipment should be installed by a professional knowledgeable in local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

8. Periodically test smoke detector batteries and always have a fire extinguisher within easy reach

Unfortunately, even the cautious may fall prey to a winter fire. California burn injury attorney Scott Liljegren has witnessed countless burn victims go through months of rehabilitation.

“Even minor burns... no matter what the cause, are incredibly painful and difficult to heal,” Liljegren said. “Severe burns can leave permanent scars, limit movement, and often prevent people from returning to work...even minor burns can have a major impact on your life.”

In the event of such burn injuries, he continued, there are immediate actions you may take.

Immediate Treatment for Minor Burn Injuries:

1. Flush burn area with room temperature water, not cold. Water alone or a mild soap is all you should you use to gently clean the injured area.

2. Do not apply ice as it can cause tissue damage to burned skin

3. Keep the injured are clean and dry while it heals. If needed, cover the burnt skin with a light bandage. Over-the-counter ointment may be applied to prevent the bandage from sticking to the skin.

4. Stay away from folk remedies like applying butter; butter, for example, may increase the chance of infection in a severe burn.

While some minor burns may be suitably treated from your home it is always a good idea to visit a doctor to ensure the wound heals properly and no underlying infection develops.

Heating equipment often causes serious and potentially fatal burn injuries requiring medical attention.

Seek medical treatment if:

1. A burn area is large or any blistering occurs

2. There is extreme pain

3. Any loss of sensation

4. Burnt on the face, eyes, hands, or feet

5. There’s any smoke inhalation from the fire exposure

6. A burn does not appear to heal normal

For more information of fire safety and prevention and statistics, visit the U.S. Fire Administration: Working for a Fire-Safe America.

Jen Mur writes in conjunction with Safer-America, a consumer safety organization, and personal injury attorneys, Liljegren Law Group.

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