Survey Shows That Rising Energy Costs Could Lead to More Home Fires, Deaths and Injuries
State Fire Marshal Sink warns that alternative heating sources can be risky
TALLAHASSEE—Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink is joining the American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in warning Floridians about the risks of using alternative, even unconventional, heating sources to keep home heating bills down as fuel costs rise.
In time for Fire Prevention Week, which began Sunday and continues through Saturday, October 11, the American Red Cross and NFPA released the results of a survey showing that up to half of survey respondents intended to use stoves and ovens to keep warm, in addition to portable space heaters and fireplaces, all of which pose fire hazards. The telephone survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adult residents was conducted September 25-28, 2008.
“Already more deaths occur in home fires than in any other kind of fire,” said Fire Marshal Sink. “For your safety and your family’s safety, please think twice about using stoves and ovens for anything other than cooking, use space heaters with an automatic shutoff and make sure your fireplaces are clean.”
Young adults, ages 18-24, were more likely than other respondents to state they will use the oven to keep the kitchen warm this winter (17 percent versus 7 percent for all households). Meanwhile, one-third (36 percent) of people with fireplaces reported they never cleaned or inspected their chimneys, and 23 percent of respondents indicated they did not consider it essential that someone is home when food is cooking on the stove.
In 2007, more than 23,700 Florida homes caught fire, resulting in more than 144 deaths – 73 percent of the total 198 reported fire-related deaths – and 592 injuries. And more home fires occur in the month of December than in any other month, due to the added risk of holiday lights and decorations.
“Of the more than 74,000 disasters the American Red Cross responds to each year, approximately 93 percent are fire-related, but unlike natural disasters, most home fires can be prevented,” said Gail J. McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross.
In addition to making sure heating appliances are in good condition, Sink also advises:
• Make sure you have smoke detectors and make sure they work.
• Create a fire escape plan for your family and practice carrying out the plan.
• Use flashlights instead of candles if electrical power is knocked out.
• Plug electric space heaters directly into wall outlets. Do not use extension cords.
• Keep space heaters and other heat sources at least 3 feet away from furniture, walls and drapes and never use a space heater in a bedroom.
• Before using a fireplace, make sure the chimney flue is open so carbon monoxide gas can escape.
• If your natural gas is shut off or the pilot light needs to be re-lit, contact your local gas company. Do not attempt to turn the gas on or light the pilot on your own.
• Turn out lights and snuff candles before going to bed or leaving the house.
• Keep candles out of reach of children and pets and use sturdy candleholders.
• Have an operable fire extinguisher readily available.
Residents are not the only ones at risk when a fire occurs. One hundred and forty-two Florida firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty, including four firefighters who died last year. They will be honored, along with a firefighter who died in 1983, during the Florida Fallen Firefighter Memorial to be held Friday at 11:00 a.m. at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. The annual event is hosted by the Division of State Fire Marshal and the Florida Joint Council of Fire and Emergency Service Organizations.
As a statewide elected officer of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services, a multi-division state agency responsible for management of state funds and unclaimed property, assisting consumers who request information and help related to financial services, and investigating financial fraud. CFO Sink also serves as the State Fire Marshal.