Space heaters: Firefighters advise caution

Tech. Sgt. Wayne Blake
435th Civil Engineer Squadron

We all have something that we love or dread about winter. Firefighters dread the many tragedies caused by the improper use of home space heaters.
Many people don’t realize how dangerous these common household devices can be. Heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during December, January and February. Most heating equipment fires involve space heaters.
Space heaters take many forms. They can be fixed or portable. They can be fueled by electricity, wood, gas or kerosene (although the latter are illegal in many places, including KMC military housing). Even wood stoves and fireplaces are considered space heaters. All pose hazards and all require care.
Research by the National Fire Protection Association has found that when space heaters are involved in fires, it’s typically because the devices were placed or installed too close to combustible materials, had basic flaws in construction and design, or were improperly installed, maintained or fueled.
On average, the United States experiences 48,000 fires, 300 deaths and 1,400 injuries involving all forms of heating, according to NFPA. Space heaters need space – keep them at least three feet (or one meter) from anything that can burn. Turn off the space heater when you leave home or go to sleep. When you buy one, look for models with an automatic shutoff feature and a listing by a testing laboratory.
Rely on professionals to install or inspect new heaters. Make sure any fueled heating device is adequately ventilated, especially gas-fueled devices, which account for most of the non-fire carbon monoxide deaths involving heating equipment.
If you have a fireplace or wood stove, have your chimney inspected every year, and if necessary, have it cleaned. Fires can start in chimneys when there’s a buildup of creosote, the residue of unburned fuel.
Use only seasoned hardwood, and never burn trash. Keep sparks and embers inside the fireplace with fire screens of heat-tempered glass or sturdy metal. Of course, we’re trained and ready to fight any fires that occur in the KMC. But we would be happier if we could prevent them altogether.