By: Alonso Chavarriaga
Using Space Heaters and Fireplaces Safely
With the rising cost of energy, many homes are increasing use of space heaters despite the number of horror stories that surround them. Dr. Corinn Cross, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), says that modern space heaters are much safer now, but it’s still a good idea to use them only during the day, when you are awake and present. Dr. Cross also believes you still shouldn’t sleep in the same room as a space heater. You should always have carbon monoxide detectors in your house, but even more so if you have space heaters.
Fireplaces are another potential danger, as they are essentially a controlled fire inside of your home. A lit fireplace can be safe as long as you keep it clean, and stay home to monitor it. Don’t leave the room if possible, and make sure none of the embers can go anywhere. Fireplace screens need to be extended fully across the opening. After you finish using the fireplace, make sure there are no lit embers, and wait at least a few days before throwing them away in plastic bags since they may still be hot.
If you are using a glass door instead of a screen, Dr. Cross strongly encourages you to replace them if they are more than 50 years old, as the older doors don’t typically cover the entire fireplace. As long as they are not tampered with or have spaces for embers to jump out, glass doors can be a great way to keep your fireplace secured. With children, make sure they know not to touch the glass door as it can get extremely hot and cause burns.
Practice Fire Safety with Kids
One of the most important things you can do with your family is enact fire drills. Dr. Cross calls them “essential,” and says they are a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page in case of a fire emergency. Make sure there are at least two escapes from every bedroom, but also having emergency exits in every other room is ideal.
For best results, Dr. Cross recommends performing a fire drill in the middle of the night so that everyone can do their best under worst-case scenarios. If you have younger children, it’s a good idea to start during the day instead and let them know ahead of time that you will be having fire drills. Make it clear that they should not go under the bed or hide in the event of an emergency, and that they know where the designated meeting place is. If it’s too hard on them, try teaching them good behaviors during the day and keep practicing until they are more comfortable. When it comes to preparing your kids, Dr. Cross has other great ideas:
- Teach your children how to work the escape ladder, open windows, remove screens, and make sure the ladder touches the ground.
- Emphasize the importance of staying low to the ground if there is smoke.
- In the event of a fire, speed is everything so time their actions. Generally, you want a full escape within three minutes, but less than two minutes is best.
If your children are beginning to learn how to cook, teach them to call first responders and run outside in case of a fire, instead of staying and trying to extinguish it themselves. Of course, it depends on the age. “If they are older and have the ability to remain focused and use the fire extinguisher, they may be able to handle it themselves,” says Dr. Cross. She continues “If they are young, around age 10, it might be too much for them to process and are better off seeking the help of first responders.”
There is one last piece of advice Dr. Cross has for keeping your family safe from fires during the winter months. Make sure you have fire detectors placed outside of every bedroom, or inside the bedroom if you sleep with the door closed. Using fire and smoke detectors alongside carbon monoxide detectors, you will have a great early warning system in place. Finally, check the batteries regularly (at least once a month) and continue having fire drills with your entire family participating and working together to improve escape times.