New Englanders move indoors each winter as the snow floats down and the temperatures plummet and they bring inside with them a greater opportunity for fire. Heating systems that haven’t been used in months, increased indoor cooking and alternative sources of heat are just a few of the situations that can lead to home fires in the winter months.
“In heating a home, people look at alternative ways to heat and there is always a risk if systems are not installed correctly or properly maintained,” said John Bates, the fire prevention officer with the City of Keene Fire Department. “There is a bigger risk of power loss in a storm so people use candles and do more inside cooking during the winter.
“The two biggest causes of fire that we see are from smoking material being improperly disposed of and from candles. With cold weather, people begin smoking inside. To be safe they should not smoke inside and then use the proper container for disposal later,” Bates added.
Beyond not smoking indoors and being wary of candle use, especially when the power is out, Bates also recommends having all appliances and heating systems checked and having routine maintenance done before beginning use for extended periods of time during cold weather.
“Chimney maintenance is important as well, as there can be build up,” Bates said. “We also see fires from ash that is not disposed of. Homeowners should use a metal container and keep it off the porch and away from their house.”
However, if despite precautions a fire does break out, early detection of the threat is critical. For Michael DelPriore, owner of Amity Alarms in Hinsdale, alarm systems that are on 24-hour alert provide continual coverage and are preferred by many insurance companies.
“These systems have smoke and freeze sensors to detect if the pipes freeze or the water heater is compromised,” DelPriore said.
While all-encompassing security systems provide peace of mind, it is critical that homeowners not become complacent and rely too much on just the presence of their system.
“After the system is installed it should be tested. A weekly minimum is testing the bloodline, which for these systems is the phone line. If it detects an emergency the panel will seize the phone line and call the central system,” DelPriore said. “Most are programmed to test automatically, but owners should not trust it will just happen.
“Scheduled maintenance of the system should be done every four years. At that time, we change the main system backup battery. They say they have a five-year lifespan, so we go before that to be sure,” DelPriore concluded.
He also added that when shopping for a security system it is important to look for one that is UL listed. This certification ensures that a company will properly install and test their product, plus maintain it and have appropriate backups in place.
“It is important to remember we live in an internet age and we are flooded with brochures and advertising,” DelPriore said. “A security company might sell direct to you, or people might think they can save money by installing a system themselves, but you have to think about what the right choice is for your family.”
For those not in a position to purchase quite an all-encompassing home security and detection system, Bates recommends smoke alarms, ABC fire extinguishers that are easily accessible, keeping exits clear (particularly when winter gear may clutter doorway areas) and to have and practice a fire evacuation plan.
“Keene is part of a statewide grant that is targeting the homes of people over 60 years of age, or homes with children under the age of five. If you own a home that meets that criteria or live in one we will come and install free smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors after residents fill out a survey and watch a video,” Bates said.
The grant program, named Get Alarmed New Hampshire, is available in Keene, Troy, Walpole, Antrim and Rindge. Residents in those towns who are interested should contact their local fire departments for details, while other towns can contact their fire departments to inquire about alternative options or recommendations.
If a fire does break out at home and the alarm sounds, the number one thing to do is contact the fire department and get out quickly.
“In order to limit damage, residents should call the fire department immediately,” Bates said. “To limit damage, you can close doors behind you on the way out. Fires build and spread rapidly so it will be less likely for it to spread.”
Another way to minimize damage is to keep important documents in a fire safe at home or a safe deposit box at the bank. Keep clutter contained so it doesn’t provide fuel for the fire and have roll up ladders accessible on upper stories in case staircases are blocked.
Be sure that toasters and microwaves are functioning properly and dryer vents are clear. Any exposed cords, like from exercise equipment or entertainment sets, should be checked to ensure there is no fraying.
With increased indoor time and a greater usage of a number of appliances and home heating systems during the winter, the best step to keeping fire out of the home is prevention and early detection.
Keene residents interested in learning more about the Get Alarmed New Hampshire Program, can contact Fire Prevention Officer John Bates at the Keene Fire Department at 757-1863.