Staying warm and staying safe

Preparation pays off. Heating accidents happen but, with a little extra caution, a safer winter can be possible.

Dr. Tait Olaveson, medical director of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, ID, says he sees burns every winter from some sort of heating equipment malfunction or misuse. He wants everyone to use extra caution this winter to stay safe indoors.

“You should always consider having your heating units and fireplaces professionally inspected,” said Dr. Olaveson. “Dust buildup and gas leaks can potentially cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Having your air vents, heating units, fireplaces, chimneys, and natural gas connections professionally clean or inspected can give you peace of mind.”

December, January, and February are the peak months for heating fires, which are the second leading cause of home fires, deaths, and injuries in the country, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Though not all burn or fire incidents can be avoided, some simple ways to reduce heating hazards include establishing a three-foot zone around heating equipment free of any flammable or combustible materials and never leaving fires or heaters unattended. These steps help prevent unwelcome incidents and ensures, if one happens, that you can act quickly.

“A three-foot safe zone can discourage any trips or bumps and keep flammable materials from coming into contact with the heater,” he said. “But, keep in mind, that just because something isn’t touching the heater does not mean that the item can’t catch fire.”