Yenrick: Stay warm, safeWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
The return of freezing weather means we’ll be grudgingly unpacking gloves, hats and shovels and trying to avoid chilly memories of last winter’s polar vortex.
At the American Red Cross, the return of winter temperatures also means it’s time to remind the community about preparedness and the safe use of heating sources.
We are entering the prime season for home fires, especially those due to alternative sources of heating. Red Cross volunteers in Northwest Ohio respond, on average, to a home fire every 19 hours. In December, January and February the bulk of fires we respond to are due to unsafe and, in many circumstances, unnecessary means of keeping a home warm. The American Red Cross urges families to be cautious when using space heaters and other heating sources, and to make an evacuation plan in case of a home fire or other disaster.
To prevent heating-related fires, the American Red Cross offers the following prevention tips to stop heating fires before they start:
- Keep all potential fuel sources (newspapers, matches, bedding, clothing, carpets and rugs) at least three feet away from heat sources, such as space heaters, fireplaces, and stoves.
- Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.
- Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.
- If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes.
As anyone who has spent time working with us can tell you, responding to these types of disasters and alleviating the suffering that comes as a consequence is a major part of who we are and what we do. The nature of our work is often reactive. Response is at the core of our mission.
We understand disasters happen, and we are working hard to stress the importance of preparation and prevention. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preparing for a home fire doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment or training, and doesn’t take much time.
In addition to following the manufacturer’s instructions on how to safely use heating equipment, one of the easiest ways to prepare for a fire is to check that all of your home’s smoke alarms are in good condition. Smoke alarms should be installed outside of each sleeping area and on each level of your home.
Prevention and preparedness in the winter months also mean taking proactive steps to ensure more traditional utilities are uninterrupted. If natural gas or electricity is shut off, substituting ovens, charcoal grills, stoves or candles to heat a home is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe emergency situations. In most cases, these situations are unnecessary to begin with, as help securing home heating is available.
There are several programs to share; however, the first suggestion in every situation is to contact your local utility company at the first sign you may have trouble paying your bill. The sooner they are informed about an issue or problem, the more options there will be for assistance.
Currently, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) offers assistance to families with a household income of up to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, or $47,700 for a family of four. For more information, or to find the agency in your county that administers HEAP funding, please contact the Ohio Development Services Agency at 1(800) 282-0880.
It is our hope that every household stays warm and safe this winter.
Tim Yenrick is Regional CEO of the American Red Cross of Northwestern Ohio.