FORSYTH COUNTY — With some of the coldest air since last winter sweeping across the Forsyth County area to this week, public safety officials were reminding residents to take precautions as they stay warm.
Forsyth County Fire Department Chief Jason Shivers said the first winter safety rule is one that applies year round.
“Make sure all your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms have fresh batteries,” he said. “You need to have a smoke alarm on every floor of your home at a minimum, preferable outside of every bedroom.”
Carbon monoxide alarms are especially important for those using gas to heat a home due to the mechanics of the heating system.
“If you have gas-burning appliances, if your home is heated through gas, natural gas or propane heat of any kind, you also need to have carbon monoxide alarms,” Shivers said. “Any combustion that has gas can produce carbon monoxide.”
Alarms are important since it’s impossible to smell carbon monoxide.
“[And] when you are asleep, you cannot smell,” he said. “Your nose literally turns off when you’re asleep, so having that protection from smoke is critical.”
Many homeowners also use fireplaces or wood-burning stoves for warmth and ambience during cold weather.
“Burn as the stoves and fireplaces are intended, meaning clean, cured firewood,” Shivers said. “Any kind of pressure-treated wood puts off very noxious, toxic gases. You don’t ever want to burn trash of any kind or paper in the fireplace. They can burn very hot and unpredictable, especially gift-wrapping paper.”
Shivers also said that keeping chimneys clean is critical; they should be inspected annually.
“All of that debris is highly flammable,” Shivers said. “If it gets hot enough it will begin to burn inside that flue and chimney, and can very quickly either melt away the chimney pipe of get through the mortar cracks in the chimney into the attic space of a home.”
Space heaters are also a common way to ward off cold weather, but users should be sure not to use kerosene heaters indoors.
“The high-powered kerosene heaters are intended for more open air areas inside workshops and garages and construction sites,” Shivers said. “They’re really not intended for the sealed in homes that we live in today.”
If using an electric space heater, make sure to keep them away from anything flammable.
“Make sure that your space heater has the built in safety switch, typically called a turnover switch,” he said. “So that way if the device turns over, it automatically turns off.”
Shivers recommended plugging space heaters directly into a wall.
“If you do use extension cords … don’t run [them] underneath rugs,” he said. “They produce a fair amount of heat because of the electric draw through that cord to provide power to that appliance and often times can cause a fire underneath that rug.”
The final bit of advice Shivers offered was to keep children safe and away from any warming devices.
“You always want to keep children, especially infants, those that are young and crawling, away from heating devices,” he said. “In an instant they can cause lifelong injuries if they make contact with human skin.”