Florida Heeds Survey: Rising Energy Costs Could Increase Home Fires

October 10, 2008

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink is joining the American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association in warning Floridians about the risks of using alternative and unconventional heating sources to keep home heating bills down as fuel costs rise.

In time for Fire Prevention Week, which began Oct. 5 and continues through Oct. 11, the American Red Cross and NFPA released the results of a survey showing that up to half of survey respondents intended to use stoves and ovens to keep warm in addition to portable space heaters and fireplaces — all of which pose fire hazards. The telephone survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adult residents was conducted Sept. 25-28.

“Already more deaths occur in home fires than in any other kind of fire,” Sink said. “For your safety and your family’s safety, please think twice about using stoves and ovens for anything other than cooking, use space heaters with an automatic shutoff and make sure your fireplaces are clean.”

Young adults, ages 18-24, were more likely than other respondents to say they will use the oven to keep the kitchen warm this winter (17 percent versus 7 percent for all households). Meanwhile 36 percent of people with fireplaces reported they never cleaned or inspected their chimneys, and 23 percent of respondents indicated they did not consider it essential that someone is home when food is cooking on the stove.

In 2007, more than 23,700 Florida homes caught fire, resulting in more than 144 deaths — 73 percent of the total 198 reported fire-related deaths — and 592 injuries. And more home fires occur in the month of December than in any other month, due to the added risk of holiday lights and decorations.

Gail J. McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, said organization responds to more than 74,000 disasters each year, of which approximately 93 percent are fire-related.

In addition to making sure heating appliances are in good condition, Sink also advises:

-Make sure you have smoke detectors and make sure they work.
-Create a fire escape plan for your family and practice carrying out the plan.
-Use flashlights instead of candles if electrical power is knocked out.
-Plug electric space heaters directly into wall outlets. Do not use extension cords.
-Keep space heaters and other heat sources at least 3 feet away from furniture, walls and drapes and never use a space heater in a bedroom.
-Before using a fireplace, make sure the chimney flue is open so carbon monoxide gas can escape.
-If your natural gas is shut off or the pilot light needs to be re-lit, contact your local gas company. Do not attempt to turn the gas on or light the pilot on your own.
-Turn out lights and snuff candles before going to bed or leaving the house.
-Keep candles out of reach of children and pets and use sturdy candleholders.
-Have an operable fire extinguisher readily available.

Residents are not the only ones at risk when a fire occurs. One hundred and forty-two Florida firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty, including four firefighters who died last year, Sink said.

Source: Florida State Fire Marshal

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