Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 16, 2013

Fire Chief Chasteen offers winter heat safety tips

By Amanda Browning Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG – A home on North Broadway Street experienced a fire scare Friday morning, caused when someone dumped an ashtray into a trash can.

The cigarette butts in the ashtray were still hot and caused the contents of the waste bin to begin smoldering, which quickly filled the house with smoke. The home’s occupants called 911 and evacuated the house safely. EMS workers at the scene checked the residents for smoke inhalation damage and no injuries were reported.

When firefighters from the Greensburg Fire Department (GFD) arrived, they encountered heavy smoke in the house, but no fire. The trash can was found to be the source of the smoke and was taken outside where the smoldering trash was extinguished.

“It looked much worse than it was,” GFD Fire Chief Scott Chasteen said. “There was a lot of smoke, but no actual flames.”

The close call caused by a seemingly harmless action makes it seem wise to review fire and heat safety tips for the winter. The Daily News spoke with Chief Chasteen on Friday to learn ways to stay warm and safe during the cold weather.

To begin, Chasteen emphasized the danger of emptying ashtrays into trash cans because cigarette butts can stay hot for a long time.

“It’s best to use a metal container with nothing combustible inside, preferably sand or gravel,” he said.

Chasteen advised having one’s furnace inspected annually near the beginning of the cold weather season. A trained professional can inspect the heating equipment and make sure everything is in working order and is operating properly, reducing the possibility of the furnace causing a fire. All flammable material should be stored a safe distance away from the furnace, water heater and other appliances.

Alternative heating devices, like fireplaces and wood stoves should have the flues inspected to be certain they are clean of creosote, or soot, and that there are no cracks in the protective liners, according to Chasteen. Creosote can build up inside the flue and eventually catch fire. Because creosote burns extremely hot, it can cause cracks in the liner and superheated creosote can leak through cracks, increasing the risk of fire spreading by a great deal.

Chasteen said people using space heaters to keep their homes warm should make sure the heater is listed with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and that it is approved for use inside a residence. Space heaters should be kept away from all walls, curtains, furniture and anything combustible. Safety settings that turn the heater off if it is knocked over should be a priority as well. For those that use space heaters in the bedroom, please make certain it is placed far enough away from the bed that blankets will not cover the heater if they fall off the bed.

For electronic heat sources, Chasteen advised checking to make sure the electrical system is equipped to sustain power to the heater. Proper wiring and voltage are important. The fire chief said if a heater is plugged in and trips a breaker or blows a fuse, it is doing what it is supposed to do.

“If you plug it in and it kicks off, unplug a few things to reduce the load on the circuit. If it continues, leave it off because it’s not safe,” Chasteen said.

Chief Chasteen stressed the importance of working smoke detectors. He advised that any smoke detector over 10 years old should be replaced. According to Chasteen, batteries should be replaced twice a year, adding that it is easier to remember to change them when clocks change with Daylight Savings Time in the spring and fall.

“They’re your first line of defense if anything happens,” Chasteen said. “And if you’re using any kind of alternative heat source that may release carbon monoxide, you should have a carbon monoxide detector.”

Chasteen’s final piece of advice was to have an up-to-date escape plan for one’s family. Everyone in the home should participate in exit drills. While planning an escape route, Chasteen advised planning two ways to escape every room, as well as designating a single safe meeting place if the home needs to be evacuated. Once a meeting spot is chosen, every member of the family needs to know to meet there in case of an emergency.

With proper care and precaution, it is entirely possible to navigate the months of cold weather safely. Actions that take very little time and effort could potentially save a life, or even the lives of an entire family. In the event of a fire, officials advise individuals to evacuate first, then call 911. Items can be replaced, but loved ones cannot.

Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004