Staying Safe With Space Heaters

It’s a great time of year to stay inside and stay warm. But careless use of heating equipment can quickly turn your cozy night indoors into a disaster.

During Burn Awareness Week, Feb. 2-8, West Penn Hospital’s Burn Center would like to remind the public that winter months are a dangerous time for home heating fires. Their toll is substantial: According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2011 heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 U.S. home structure fires, with 400 deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in property damage.

“Space heaters, by far, pose the biggest hazard in this cold-weather season,” said Ariel Aballay, MD, medical director of the Burn Center at West Penn Hospital, part of the Allegheny Health Network. “Space heaters or wood stoves cause up to three-quarters of home heating fires in the winter months.”

“The biggest danger comes when the space heater is placed too close to something flammable, such as bedding, clothing or furniture,” Dr. Aballay said. “For wood or coal stoves, or fireplaces, the biggest risk factor is failing to keep them clean.”

To stay safe with space heaters:

  • Never leave a space heater unattended and make sure it is shut off before you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Place the space heater on a level, hard surface such as ceramic tile, not on rugs or carpets.
  • Keep the heater at least three feet away from anything that can catch fire.
  • Make sure children and pets stay at least three feet clear of space heaters.
  • Buy a model that shuts off automatically if the heater tips over.
  • Never refill a kerosene heater indoors, while it is still operating or still hot. Only use manufacturer-recommended fuel and follow the guidelines
  • Have wood and coal stoves, chimneys and fireplaces, cleaned and inspected by a professional once a year.
  • Put a screen over your fireplace to prevent sparks from escaping and igniting a fire.
  • Never use the kitchen oven to heat your home. It can be a source of toxic fumes as well as a fire hazard.

“Now is a good time to make sure your home is equipped for an emergency,” Dr. Aballay said. “Make sure flashlights are at hand and are equipped with batteries. Never use a candle for light if your power goes out.”

“In any season, the most important safety tip is to make sure your home is equipped with smoke detectors,” Dr. Aballay added. “If you did not change your smoke detectors’ batteries at the Daylight Savings Time change, check them now. “

West Penn Burn Center in 2013 received its sixth verification by the American Burn Association for adult and pediatric burn care. West Penn Burn Center is the only center in the state to achieve verification six times, recognizing excellence in burn care management.

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