By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

Ole Man Winter who has certainly delivered during the past week, bringing the area temperatures that only polar bears enjoy!  If this “chill” has left you with frozen water pipes, SVFD warns NOT to use an open flame for thawing!

According to Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dylan Oliveto, 2017 was the firefighters’ busiest year ever in SVFD history!  They finished the year having answered 863 alarms.  Thankfully, though, he said that with the Christmas season now behind them and holiday trees being mostly removed by this time, that will help eliminate some of the threats they face.

“However, with the extremely frigid temperatures we’ve experienced recently, other threats are posed,” Oliveto stated.  Many people resort to the use of auxiliary heating devices such as space heaters and those, too, can create problems if users are not very cautious.  One of the two most common mistakes when using space heaters is overloading an outlet with more devices and/or more wattage than they are designed to handle.  The second mistake is having them too close to combustible material such as curtains or near a sofa, blankets, etc.”

Chief Oliveto offered several suggestions to keep in mind when using a space heater. Although he doesn’t recommend using an extension cord at all, if it is absolutely necessary, an extension cord with a heavy duty rating such as a contractor’s extension cord is the best choice.

Also, he advised never leaving pets running around unattended or children playing without supervision in an area where a space heater is running.   Keep any additional heating device out of a high traffic area.

“These devices should be turned OFF when you are sleeping,” he added.  “Bundle up with blankets or dress in layers for the night to help you stay warm, but leaving a space heater on while sleeping is not a good idea.  If the device should malfunction, it could be too late – perhaps even before your smoke alarm goes off!”

He recalled that last year a fire at a residence on East Avenue in Shinnston occurred because of this very reason.

“An electric space heater was being used and the legs on the device failed; it tipped and was near combustibles and the home was a loss,” he stated.  “We always recommend that if folks are using a space heater, it needs to be kept at least three feet away from anything that might be combustible.”

Oliveto said that kerosene heaters should never be used inside a residence.  And the same goes for Coleman stoves or any type of camp stove.  He also stressed that people should avoid using their gas cooking stove/oven as a source of heat.

“People forget that as stoves and ovens do generate heat to warm you, they are also heating your nearby cabinets and walls, and when these get too hot, they could combust as well,” he explained.

Another precaution he discussed was directed at homeowners who use fireplaces in their residence as a heat source.  Although they are warming and a crackling fire does create a nice atmosphere, if used as a primary heat source and are burned a lot, there will also be a buildup of by-product and creosote, and that needs to be removed by professionals so that safety is considered first, rather than ambiance!

“We remind people that gas lines can freeze just like water lines, so if anyone loses all of their sources of heat, they can call the Red Cross,” he noted.  “Although the need has not warranted it here in our local area, sometimes warming stations are set up to help people when this problem occurs.  Or, they can call their Fire Department and we can help them make arrangements to get them into a warm place.”

Chief Oliveto continued, “County-wide, we notice an increase in residential fires and residential flooding calls at this time of year.  These are the two biggest cold weather calls we get when a cold spell arrives.  And now that a higher temperature swing is being predicted, we are expecting calls to increase because of thawing and resulting flooding.”

A fire in Gypsy just last weekend was a result of a torpedo heater being used to thaw frozen water pipes, he reported.  “Regionally, five fires transpired over the past weekend due to people using an open flame for thawing.  Torpedo heaters and handheld torches should NEVER be used for this purpose.  It is too easy to catch insulation or paneling, for instance, on fire.  We don’t want to scare people, but these precautions are important to stress so that fires are avoided.  If these predicted warmer temperatures do arrive at the end of this week, we would suggest that people go somewhere and purchase foam wraps to go around their pipes.  This can help prevent freezing pipes, and so can allowing your water faucets to drip slowly,” he suggested.

Although a warming trend is certainly welcomed news right now, it does not mean that wintry weather is by any means over.  According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this year’s winter temperatures are to be colder than last year’s and many weeks of winter still remain.  So don’t put away your shovels yet … and don’t pack away your long johns!  T-shirts and flip flops are still a bit premature.

“Offering these precautions is not intended to cause fear; they are merely smart safety precautions,” Chief Oliveto concluded.  “Our goal is to help people NOT to lose their property due to common mistakes.”