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Prevention is the key

PRINCETON — According to the American Red Cross, the biggest disaster threat in the United States is house fires.

The American Red Cross responds to a house fire about every nine minutes. In recognition of the need to educate the public on home fire safety, the American Red Cross is partnering with other agencies in promoting October as National Fire Prevention Month.

On Monday, Bureau County Red Cross Director Lori Compton said the local chapter has already assisted 13 families dealing with house fires so far this year. One of those fires was a multi-unit apartment building and two were single-family units. In the previous year, the local Red Cross responded to seven house fires.

Compton said the approaching colder weather and winter season can result in an increased number of house fires. Because of the economy is, people sometimes are turning to alternative heating sources, like wood-burning stoves or space heaters, which can be more dangerous in the home.

Now is the time for residents to get prepared for the winter, to make sure they put safety first and that their furnaces are in good operating condition, Compton said, adding households should make sure they have developed a fire escape plan, review it and practice it at least twice a year with everyone who lives in the house.

According to the National Fire Safety Administration (NFSA), an estimated average of 50,100 heating fires in residential buildings occur in the United States each year, resulting in an annual average of approximately 150 deaths, 575 injuries and $326 million in property loss.

Princeton Fire Chief Chuck Woolley said the Princeton Fire Department handles about 300 fire department responses each year, but many of those involve false alarms. On top of that number are the ambulance responses.

Looking ahead to the coming months, Woolley said there are some safety precautions which people can and should take as they prepare for the winter season.

One major safety concern each winter is the use of space heaters, Woolley said. A lot of the fire calls for the Princeton Fire Department deal with space heaters, including both electric and kerosene heaters. Space heaters are not a very good heating source and can be very dangerous if misused, he said.

According to the NFSA, all space heaters need space and should be kept at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn. Space heaters should be plugged directly into outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip. Also, people should install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms inside the home to provide early warning of carbon monoxide, Woolley said.

Woolley also said another potential fire threat comes from chimneys. If anyone uses a wood stove or fireplace, they need to make sure their chimneys are inspected before they are to put to use. Also, fire extinguishers should be readily available, and people need to know how to use them.

Homeowners should also have their furnaces inspected each year and make sure the furnace filters are replaced, the fire chief said.

In agreeing with Woolley’s safety precautions, Compton said the best time to take those precautions and to plan for a disaster of any kind is before it happens.

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