August 29, 2014

Winter Weather Warning: CPSC and USFA Issue Home Heating Safety Alert

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the United States Fire Administration (USFA) are urging consumers to play it safe as winter weather blankets the United States.

According to USFA, home fires spike in winter months. Cooking and home heating are the leading causes of residential building fires during the winter. The risk of fires also increases with the use of supplemental heating, such as space heaters.

CPSC estimates that home heating was associated with an average of 33,300 fires and 180 fire deaths per year from 2005 to 2007.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is also a serious threat in the winter months. Any fuel-burning appliances in the home, including furnaces and fireplaces, are a potential CO source. Carbon monoxide is called the “invisible killer,” because it is an odorless, colorless and poisonous gas.

There has been an increasing trend in unintentional, non-fire CO deaths associated with consumer products since 1999. CPSC staff estimates there were 184 CO poisoning deaths on average per year from 2005-2007 compared to 122 deaths per year from 1999-2001. Since 1999, the majority of CO deaths have been associated with heating systems and portable generators.

Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are an important line of defense in the home, and they give consumers valuable escape time. About two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms, or in homes where consumers have removed the alarm’s batteries or where the batteries are dead. Recently, there were tragic deaths in homes where alarms could have made a difference:

* In Citra, Fla., a fire killed five children on November 8. Their home did not have smoke alarms.
* In Penfield, N.Y., a 54-year-old man died of CO poisoning in November. Prior to his death, the home’s CO alarms reportedly beeped and were removed from the house.

CPSC and USFA recommend that in addition to having working smoke and CO alarms, consumers should follow these safety tips to prevent fires and CO poisoning:

Preventing Fires:

* Place space heaters on a floor that is flat and level. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials; and place space heaters out of the flow of foot traffic. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
* To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the heater off when you leave the area. See CPSC’s electric space heater safety alert for more space heater safety tips (pdf).
* Never use gasoline in a kerosene space heater. Even small amounts of gasoline mixed with kerosene can increase the risk of a fire.
* Have fireplace flues and chimneys inspected for leakage and blockage from creosote or debris every year.
* Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire, and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
* Store fireplace ashes in a fire-resistant container, and cover the container with a lid. Keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles. Dispose of ashes carefully, keeping them away from dry leaves, trash or other combustible materials.

Preventing CO poisoning:

* Schedule a yearly professional inspection of all fuel-burning home heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.
* NEVER operate a portable gasoline-powered generator in an enclosed space, such as a garage, shed, or crawlspace, or in the home.
* Keep portable generators as far away from your home and your neighbors’ homes as possible – away from open doors, windows or vents that could allow deadly carbon monoxide into the home.
* When purchasing a space heater, ask the salesperson whether the heater has been safety-certified. A certified heater will have a safety certification mark. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
* Do not use portable propane space heaters indoors or in any confined space, unless they are designed specifically for indoor use. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for proper use.
* Never use gas or electric stoves to heat the home. They are not intended for that purpose and can pose a CO or fire hazard.

More information can be found in CPSC’s Safety Alert, Reducing Fire Hazards for Portable Electric Heaters (pdf)

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Daylight Saving Time Alert: Working Smoke Alarms Are Key to Surviving Home Fires

Smoke alarms are proven life savers. There are more than 300,000 residential fires every year, so when there is a fire, smoke alarms buy families valuable escape time.

Unfortunately, about two-thirds of fire deaths take place in homes with no smoke alarms or with non-working smoke alarms. The most common reasons why alarms did not work were missing, disconnected, or dead batteries. Consumers need to make sure that they have a working smoke alarm.

For better warning of fire, consumers should install smoke alarms on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms. Replace batteries annually, and test the smoke alarms monthly. A good time to remember to replace batteries is when turning clocks ahead for daylight saving time on Sunday, March 9.

When shopping for smoke alarms, consumers should be aware of the two different types of smoke alarms: ionization and photoelectric. While both types are effective smoke sensors, ionization type detectors respond quickly to flaming fires, while photoelectric type detectors respond sooner to smoldering fires. Since consumers can’t predict what types of fires might break out, CPSC staff recommends (pdf) installing both ionization and photoelectric type smoke alarms (pdf) throughout the home for the best warning of a fire. This recommendation is also supported by the United States Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Association, Underwriters Laboratories, and by research conducted by the National Institute for Standards and Technology. There are also dual sensor smoke alarms that have both ionization and photoelectric sensors in one unit.

Consumers should also consider interconnected smoke alarms. Interconnected alarms are connected to each other by a hard wire or by wireless technology. If one alarm is triggered, all interconnected alarms in the home sound, alerting consumers to the fire earlier.

Many residential fires are preventable. CPSC recommends consumers follow these safety steps:

Never leave cooking equipment unattended.
Have a professional inspect home heating, cooling, and water appliances annually.
Inspect electrical cords for signs of wear, cracks, or age, and keep lighting away from combustibles.
Use caution with candles, lighters, matches, and smoking materials near upholstered furniture, mattresses, and bedding. Keep matches and lighters out of reach of young children.
Have a fire escape plan (about 14 mb, Quicktime version 7 or greater format) and practice it so family members know what to do and where to meet if there’s a fire in the home. Children and the elderly may sleep through or not react to the sound of the smoke alarm, so parents and caregivers should adjust their fire escape plan to help them escape the house in the event of a fire.

For more information, also visit www.FireSafety.gov, for fire safety information from CPSC and other federal agencies