February 10, 2015

Be Safe as You Stay Warm this Winter – Space Heater Safety

By Jonathan Damashek

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As the weather turns colder, it is good to keep in mind that the fireplaces and portable home heaters we rely on for warmth pose a serious risk of fire, which can lead to burn injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Keeping warm shouldn’t put your life at risk. Burns and fires are the fifth most common cause of accidental death in children and adults, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign.

Here are some tips from the New York City Office of Emergency Management, the National Safety Council and the National Fire Protection Association to help consumers heat their homes safely.

General Home Heating / Fire Safety

  • Keep combustible materials, including furniture, drapes and carpeting at least three feet away from any heat source.
  • Do not place a Christmas tree, which is flammable, next to the fireplace. If you must do so, do not use the fireplace while the tree is in place.
  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Children can suffer burn injuries from touching a hot heater or fire screen in addition to burns from open flames or heater coils.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a cabinet with a child lock.
  • Never leave a fire or space heater unattended. Don’t leave children alone in the room where a space heater is running. Extinguish flames or turn heaters off before leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in great rooms (living rooms, dens, playrooms) and outside each bedroom, and test them monthly.
  • Make a home fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year.

Fireplaces / Wood Stoves

    • Keep your fireplace and chimney clean. Have your chimney and flue professionally cleaned once a year.
    • A fireplace should have a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
    • Only burn wood in a fireplace. Papers and other materials float as they burn and may escape and ignite something nearby.
    • Make sure ashes are cool before removing them. Put them in a metal container that is stored outdoors, a safe distance away from your home.

Space Heaters / Portable Fireplaces

      • Use portable heating equipment that is approved for indoor use. Kerosene heaters are not approved for use in New York City.
      • Place heaters and portable fireplaces on a sturdy surface out of walking paths and away from furniture.
      • Clean up any spilled fuel and be sure spots where fuel spilled are wiped dry (fully evaporated) before lighting the fireplace or heater.
      • Never pour fuel into a heater or portable fireplace that is lit or hot.
      • Use a utility lighter or long match to light a fireplace or fuel-burning heater.
      • Never try to light a fuel-burning heater that is hot. Never try to move a lit fireplace or heater, or one that is hot.
      • Extinguish flames or turn off heaters when you leave the room or home, or go to bed. Unplug electric heaters when they are not in use.


Carbon Monoxide Dangers And Safety

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. It is produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas and fuel oil. It can be emitted by unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, gas stoves, fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, automobile exhaust and tobacco smoke.

      • Never use gas or charcoal grills indoors.
      • Generators should be placed outdoors in a well-ventilated location away from windows, doors and vent openings.
      • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the fireplace, furnace, stove and dryer are clear of snow build-up.
      • The most common symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is headache. Additional symptoms include:
      • Dizziness
      • Chest pain
      • Nausea
      • Vomiting
      • Irritability
      • Agitation
      • Confusion
      • Lethargy
      • Lapsing into unconsciousness.
      • If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911, get the victim to fresh air immediately, and open windows.

If you have been harmed by a defective space heater, or a fire caused by someone else’s irresponsible use of a space heater, kerosene heater or fireplace, contact a New York injury lawyer at Hecht, Kleeger and Damashek to discuss your legal options.