Special to the Independent
A three-alarm fire in Revere last week started with a furnace, prompting a reminder from fire officials to pay special attention to home heating safety. Heating equipment is the top source of carbon monoxide at home and the second-leading cause of residential fires in Massachusetts.
“As the nights and mornings get chillier, many of us are turning up the heat for the first time since the spring,” said State Fire Marshal Jon M. Davine. “Be sure you’re heating your home safely. That means having working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of the dwelling, having your appliances professionally checked, and keeping heat sources clear of anything that can burn.”
“Last week, the Revere Fire Department responded to a three-alarm fire that started with an older furnace that hadn’t been professionally serviced in years,” said Revere Fire Chief Christopher Bright. “Working smoke alarms alerted residents to the danger, but the home is a total loss. No matter how you heat your home, please be sure your heating appliances are operating safely.”
Fire officials said there have been more than 6,000 heating fires in Massachusetts over the last five years. These fires claimed eight lives, caused more than 140 injuries to firefighters and residents, and contributed to over $39 million in damage. And in 2022 alone, Massachusetts fire departments reported finding carbon monoxide at nearly 5,000 non-fire incidents.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Every household needs working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of their home. Check the manufacturing date on the back of your alarms so you know when to replace them: smoke alarms should be replaced after 10 years and carbon monoxide alarms should be replaced after 5 to 10 years depending on the model. If your alarms take alkaline batteries, put in fresh batteries twice a year when you change your clocks. If it’s time to replace your alarms, choose new ones from a well-known, national brand. Select photoelectric smoke alarms with a sealed, long-life battery and a hush feature.
Natural Gas and Oil Heat
If you have a furnace, water heater, or oil burner, have it professionally checked and serviced each year. This will help it run more efficiently, which will save you money and could save your life. Always keep a three-foot “circle of safety” around the appliance clear of anything that could catch fire. Never store painting supplies, aerosol cans, or other flammable items near these appliances. If you smell gas, don’t use any electrical switches or devices: get out, stay out, and call 9-1-1 right away.
Residents struggling to pay for heating bills or maintenance may be eligible for assistance through the Massachusetts home energy assistance program (LIHEAP). No matter what type of heating equipment you use, LIHEAP may be able to help you pay your winter heating bills or maintain your heating system. All Massachusetts residents are encouraged to explore eligibility for this free program and apply for assistance.
Solid Fuel Heating
If you use a fireplace or a stove that burns wood, pellets, or coal, always keep the area around it clear for three feet in all directions. This circle of safety should be free of furniture, drapery, rugs, books and papers, fuel, and any other flammable items. To prevent sparks and embers from escaping, use a fireplace screen or keep the stove door closed while burning. Use only dry, seasoned hardwood and don’t use flammable liquids to start the fire. To dispose of ashes, wait until they are cool and shovel them into a metal bucket with a lid and place it outside at least 10 feet away from the building.
Have your chimney and flue professionally inspected and cleaned each year. Most chimney fires are caused by burning creosote, a tarry substance that builds up as the fireplace, wood stove, or pellet stove is used. If burning creosote, sparks, embers, or hot gases escape through cracks in the flue or chimney, they can cause a fire that spreads to the rest of the structure. Annual cleaning and inspection can minimize this risk. Contact the Massachusetts Chimney Sweep Guild or Chimney Safety Institute of America to identify reputable local companies.
Keep space heaters at least three feet from curtains, bedding, and anything else that can burn. Plug them directly into a wall socket, not an extension cord or a power strip, and remember that they’re for temporary use. Always turn a space heater off when you leave the room or go to sleep.
When purchasing a space heater, select one that’s been tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Intertek (ETL). Newer space heaters should have an automatic shut-off switch that turns the device off if it tips over. Unvented kerosene space heaters and portable propane space heaters are not permitted for residential use in Massachusetts, State Fire Marshal Davine said: the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning that they pose is too great.
Create and Practice a Home Escape Plan
Everyone should have a home escape plan that accounts for two ways out of every room, and everyone should be able to open the doors and windows along the way. Remember that children, older adults, and people with disabilities may need extra assistance.
More Home Heating Safety Tips
The Department of Fire Services offers a wealth of home heating safety information, including the “Keep Warm, Keep Safe” tool kit for local fire departments, caregivers, and service providers, on the DFS web site.