Earlier this year, on a cold January morning, fire officials determined that an electric space heater claimed the lives of 5-year-old and 9-year-old sisters in Grantville, Ga. in a fire that destroyed the family’s home. Despite repeated search and rescue efforts, smoke and flames from the fire prevented the location and rescue of the two young victims. Officials discovered there were no working smoke detectors in the home.
Should a fire start in your home, smoke detectors can save lives, but you can also take steps to prevent fires.
With winter on its way, many people will be getting out electric blankets and space heaters to help them stay warm. They may provide needed comfort, but they can also be deadly if they are not used with care.
Space heaters need space all around them to be able to circulate air safely. Place space heaters on a level surface away from areas where they could be bumped and knocked over and at least three feet away from flammable materials-including drapes, furniture and clothing. Never leave a space heater unattended or running while you sleep.
Before using a space heater, inspect the cord for any cracks or worn spots. If any are found, replace the cord or the heater. Avoid using extension cords. If one is necessary, use a heavy duty cord marked with a power rating at least as high as the heater. Take care to avoid overloading circuits.
If you are planning to buy a portable space heater, look for one that has been tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing facility and that has all of the following safety features:
• Tip-over switch that automatically shuts off the heater if it falls over.
• Protective grill to prevent anyone from touching the heating elements.
• Sealed heating elements encased in metal or ceramic.
Also inspect your electric blankets before use this year. Replace any electric blanket that is worn or torn, has a frayed electric cord or has a damaged temperature control. Consider replacing electric blankets that are more than 10 years old, since their wiring can be damaged by ordinary wear and tear.
Folding, creasing, and sitting or lying on top of an electric blanket can damage the internal coils. Replace any blanket where the embedded heating wires have been displaced or damaged. Check by holding the blanket up to light; the wires should be evenly spaced and should not touch each other anywhere. If you have any doubt about its safety, throw it out.
Turn your electric blanket off when not in use. Many older models have no internal temperature control to shut the blanket off when it gets too hot; if your blanket has no such internal control, consider replacing it with a newer model.
Also, refrain from using more than one electric blanket (or heating pad) at a time, and do not pile toys, pillows or other materials on top of an electric blanket. Excessive heat may build up to the point where the blanket could ignite. Unplug your blanket if you smell smoke or if any scorching is evident; discoloration of the blanket may indicate that it is burning internally.
Pay close attention to and follow manufacturer’s directions as to whether the blanket can be safely machine-washed. Never dry clean an electric blanket. The process may damage the internal coils and the heating insulation, which increases the risk of fire. Never use an electric blanket that is wet, and do not turn an electric blanket on to dry it out.
Whether it’s electric blankets, heaters, or wiring, protect your home and family. Check the operation of your home’s smoke detectors. Check detectors every month, and replace the batteries twice a year. Also, develop and practice an escape plan. A good plan is known by all household members and includes an outside meeting location away from danger of the fire.
At Safe Electricity we want everyone to take steps to stay safe and comfortable this winter. Learn more at SafeElectricity.org.