By Charlotte Lane
Chairman of Public Service Commission
It seems like every winter there is the heartbreaking news about a family that has lost everything in a house fire. Nearly half of all house fires are caused by space heaters and over 80% of home heating fire deaths involve stationary or portable heaters.
If a person doesn’t have central heating or is dealing with a power outage, take every precaution to keep one’s home and everyone in it safe. Rule number one: no matter how tempting it is, never use an oven or stove as a heat source. It is not safe under any circumstance.
Keep gas-powered generators outdoors and clear of all doors and windows. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer that can seep inside the home through the smallest opening. No matter one’s heat source, smoke and CO2 detectors are essential. They have saved many lives.
If one is using a space heater that uses kerosene or propane, make sure there is proper ventilation and keep the fuel outside. Keep all space heaters at least three feet away from flammable materials. Keep a safe distance between the heater and furniture and curtains. Never put a space heater on carpeting. Set it on a flat, level surface away from high traffic areas. Electric space heaters should be plugged directly into the wall socket. If an extension cord must be used, use a heavy-duty outdoor cord. Never link multiple extension cords together or leave space heaters unattended. Turn them off before bed and use an electric blanket overnight.
Wood-burning fireplaces need to be inspected at least every two years. Know what kinds of wood are safe to burn. Evergreens and some kinds of scrap wood cause creosote buildup that can set your chimney on fire. Don’t burn freshly cut wood, instead season your firewood so it burns cleaner and safer.
And finally, if a person needs help paying one’s heating bill, call the utility. Low-income families may qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance or the 20% Discount Program. Utilities also offer budget billing plans to make heating more manageable and deferred payment plans if a person falls behind on one’s bills. If one needs help negotiating with the utility, the Public Service Commission’s Consumer Affairs technicians can help at 1-800-642-8544.
Let’s all stay safe and warm this winter.