By Melissa Rivera
The two most common days for home fires are Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Carbon monoxide poisoning rates jump during winter months. Deaths from heart problems also increase during the holidays; the number of cardiac deaths is highest on December 25, according to a study in the journal Circulation.
December brings many joys, from first snow to holidays. But it also brings winter and holiday hazards.
Like a jump in home fires. The largest causes of home fires, by far, are cooking and heating. Don’t leave the kitchen when you’re cooking. Yes, that’s way easier said than done. At least set a timer on food and keep kids three feet from the stove, suggests Ulster Insurance Services. And keep a fire extinguisher accessible.
“In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a major fire,” according to ready.gov. “In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.”
Take time to make a family communication plan and a fire escape plan, then review them both. Make a designated meeting place outside the home and include two exits for each room. Another gift idea, courtesy of ready.gov: a collapsible ladder if you have a multi-story home.
Whether you use candles for emergency light or decoration, make sure they’re on a flat, steady surface within a cleared area at least a foot wide in every direction, suggests Ulster Insurance Services. Don’t leave candles unattended and extinguish them before you leave a room or go to sleep.
Ready.gov recommends you have a generator, wood- or gas-burning fireplace or other device for heat during power outages. If you have one, make sure it’s in good repair. Before you burn your first Yule log, get the chimney cleaned and inspected – an annual chore, according to ready.gov. And check the flue monthly for blockages. (Gotta make sure Santa didn’t get stuck.) Use a fireplace screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and large enough to stop all sparks. (Santa will still make it.)
Never use a device that burns gasoline, propane, charcoal or natural gas in an enclosed or even partially-enclosed space, like a room or garage, according to ready.gov. In fact, keep a generator outside and at least 20 feet away from doors, windows and vents. A blocked fireplace or a generator that doesn’t vent away from a home can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning killed 393 people in 2015, 36 percent of them during the three winter months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you use any device that burns fuel for heating, have a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home. Also have at least one smoke detector on every floor. Test alarms at least twice a year and replace those more than 10 years old, Ulster Insurance Services suggests. (Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are great gifts.)
Make sure you have fuel for your heating device. A wood stove won’t help if, in the middle of a storm, you run out of wood.
If you don’t have an emergency heating device, stock up on extra blankets, sleeping bags and coats, suggests ready.gov. Insulate your home by weather-stripping doors and window sills and by putting plastic on windows.
But don’t do what my family did. I asked my son to put plastic window film on our windows. He did one. It looks like the window is enclosed in a billowing tent. I told him I’d help with the rest.
Winter storms could entail a lot of shoveling. Dress right for the job, suggests ready.gov, in multiple layers of loose-fitting warm clothes rather than one heavy layer. Make sure the outer layer is water repellent and keeps heat in. Wear mittens, a hat and scarf.
Be careful on icy or snow-covered walkways.
A combination of cold weather and exercise is hard on the heart, according to the American Heart Association. If you have any cardiovascular concerns, lift smaller loads of snow, take frequent breaks and don’t eat or drink alcohol right before or after you shovel snow.
Yes, you’re going crazy preparing for the holidays. Still, take time to prepare for winter hazards. Preventable fires, hospital visits or deaths make for a lousy holiday season.
Melissa Rivera is a jack-of-all-trades who is master of none. She has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years.