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Fire safety officials offer tips for staying safe and warm

CONYERS — Freezing temperatures last week prompted residents to crank up the heat. Fire safety professionals offer some tips to keep you safe while you’re trying to stay warm.

Space heaters are commonly used to heat up a room without running up the power bill by heating up other areas of a house. However, Johnathan Fuqua, fire safety educator for the Covington Fire Department, said care should be taken when using space heaters.

The first thing he advises is to make sure the space heater is Underwriters Laboratories listed and that it has a tip-over feature on it.

“Some other basic tips about using space heaters is to always keep a 3-foot barrier around the heater and shut the heater off if you leave the room,” Fuqua said.

He also said not to plug the space heater into an extension cord, but to plug it directly into an outlet in the wall.

When turning on the furnace for the first time in months, many people will detect a light smoke smell due to dust build-up.

“Usually the dust buildup will burn off, but if you smell something, check your vents for smoke and if the smell doesn’t dissipate, call us,” Fuqua said. “If you’re ever in doubt, call us. If you ever think you might have a fire, call us.”

Turning on a space heater or the furnace will keep a home warm, but many people also want to enjoy the ambience of a fire in the fireplace. Fuqua advises that before the first fire is lit, people should have the chimney cleaned.

“I suggest that people have their chimney cleaned every year by a certified chimney sweep,” he said, pointing out that creosote builds up and can stick to the walls of the chimney.

Chimney fires — which are more common in prefabricated chimneys than in brick ones, he said — are typically caused by build up of creosote, which is flammable, burning the wrong materials or overloading the fireplace, creating a fire that is too big.

For example, Fuqua said people should not burn soft wood, like pine, because it builds up creosote in the chimney. Hard wood, like oak, has a lower chance of building up creosote.

“It’s also important to remember to open the flue,” Fuqua said. “If you forget to open the flue, there is no way for the smoke to escape.”

He also said to make sure to only burn appropriate materials in a fireplace and to never use lighter fluid, gasoline or diesel fuel to start fireplace fires.

Fuqua advised that a spark screen be placed in front of the fireplace and to make sure the fire is extinguished before going to sleep at night.

“The smell of smoke will not wake you up,” he said. “It has been proven by statistics that your senses lapse when you’re asleep.”

This is also the season the kitchen will be in full swing as families prepare for holiday gatherings. Rockdale County Fire and Rescue Fire Safety Educator Lt. Chris Kozikowski offers some reminders for safe cooking.

For example, he said, never leave cooking food unattended, and keep a lid nearby to smother small fires that could develop in pans, such as grease fires.

“Don’t wear loose sleeves while working over hot stove burners,” Kozikowski stated in a press release.

Not only can they catch on fire from hot burners, but they can get caught on handles of pots and pans, spilling hot oil and other liquids.

And, like the advice about space heaters, he said to maintain a 3-foot buffer zone around the stove and other areas where hot foods are prepared to keep children safe and out from underfoot. Kozikowski also advised not to use extension cords to plug in appliances

In addition to these tips, fire safety officials stress the importance of having working smoke detectors with fresh batteries. These should be placed on every level of the home, outside each sleeping area and in every bedroom.

“Test smoke alarms monthly, and replace them if they are 10 years old or older,” Kozikowski said.

Smoke detectors can be purchased for a minimal cost at most home improvement stores. Fuqua, however, advised purchasing separate carbon monoxide detectors and not one that is combined with a smoke detector.

“Carbon monoxide will not rise like smoke does, so a carbon monoxide detector should be placed down low and a smoke detector should be placed on the ceiling,” he said.

Anyone with any questions can call Fuqua at the Covington Fire Department at 678-712-9387 or Kozikowski at Rockdale County Fire and Rescue at 770-278-8401.