Avoid dangerous cold weather mistakes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
A veteran county firefighter has a bit of critical advice for homeowners.
“If your pipes freeze, don’t try to thaw them with any kind of flame,” West Rowan Fire Chief John Morrison said. “Don’t use a torch.”
Morrison knows what’s coming with the single-digit temperatures. And he said Thursday he is dreading it.
“I’m not looking forward to Friday night at all.”
It’s been about five years or more since the county has hit the single digits.
“Every time we have single digits and people have frozen pipes, people get under their houses with torches,” Morrison said. “That’s when they get in trouble.”
Morrison, head of the county’s Fire and Rescue Association, said every time there is a serious cold spell, people trying to thaw pipes cause house fires.
The expected low temperatures also make firefighters more cautious about their own safety.
Morrison said fire departments make sure to keep personnel warm and not expose them for long periods to the cold.
“You have to take extra care of your personnel in cold weather,” he said.
And firefighters have to keep water circulating in the pumps on their trucks. If left idle at a wreck or fire, the pumps will freeze.
“Flowing water doesn’t freeze,” he said. “If it sits for a while, it will freeze up.”
On the state level, the fire marshal urged caution as the arctic blast approaches and also released a report on fires across the state in 2008.
Here’s a list of safety recommendations from the state:
– Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment such as a furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable heater.
– Only use heating equipment that bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
– Never use a kitchen oven or outdoor grill for home heating.
– Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
– For fuel-burning space heaters, always use the proper fuel as specified by the manufacturer.
– Make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room and burn only dry, seasoned wood. Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them in a metal container kept a safe distance from the home.
– For wood-burning stoves, install chimney connectors and chimneys following manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional do the installation.
– Make sure all fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
– Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning.
– Test smoke alarms at least once a month.
Also Thursday, N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin announced the most recent 2008 statistics for North Carolina fires and fire fatalities.
Across the state over the past year, there have been 4,987 reported structure fires, which caused at least 24 fatalities and 220 injuries.
Goodwin, who also serves as the state fire marshal, joins the National Association of State Fire Marshals and the U.S. Fire Administration, among others, in declaring a fire emergency across the country.
“Sadly, North Carolina is no exception to the same fire problems facing the country,” Goodwin said. “Nationally, this has been one of the deadliest holiday seasons in recent history, which is why I want to remind all North Carolinians just how important fire safety and prevention is รณ to prevent future tragedies in our state.” Since Thanksgiving, more than 200 people have died in fires across the nation according to the fire marshals’ association.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.