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Fire chief urges wintertime safety

Along with staying warm and reducing heating bills, people also should be aware of how to stay safe during the winter, said Steve Vogel, fire chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 3.

Two of the season's biggest dangers are carbon monoxide poisoning and carelessly discarded fireplace ashes, he said.

During the winter of 2006-2007, 10 people died and more than 100 were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning in the state, Vogel said.

"Most poisonings were caused by the use of portable generators and charcoal grills that were used for lights and heat during the power blackout," he said.

Those 10 fatalities included two 16-year-old boys, Mike Harding of Sequim and Steven A. Gallauher of Port Angeles, who were found dead in a detached garage of a house on John Jacobs Road in November 2006. The two had entered the garage to refuel a generator and were overcome by the colorless, odorless and deadly carbon monoxide fumes. The unincorporated area between

Sequim and Port Angeles had been without power for three days following a snowstorm.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, charcoal or liquid fuel, such as propane, is burned.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu and include headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, confusion and nausea, soon followed by unconsciousness and death.

Vogel listed several precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Never burn charcoal inside your home, a tent, vehicle, in your fireplace or any other enclosed environment.

• Never use gasoline-powered equipment indoors.

• Never use your gas oven to heat your home.

• Never idle a car in a garage, even when the garage door is open.

• Never sleep in a room while using an unvented gas or kerosene heater.

• Make sure your chimneys and flues are in good condition and are not blocked. Animals and birds can build nests in chimneys, preventing gases from escaping.

• Barbecue grills never should be operated indoors under any circumstances and should be used far enough away from any open doors or windows so that no gases enter your home.

Carbon monoxide warning devices can provide additional protection but should not replace the other prevention steps, Vogel said.

"If you suspect someone has carbon monoxide poisoning, remove the person to a place with fresh air immediately. Then seek medical attention," he said.

Another wintertime danger that can be deadly is improper disposal of fireplace ashes, Vogel said.

"If I have one pet peeve, it's people cleaning out their fireplace ashes. They put them next to the house and don't get rid of them or they dump them in garbage cans.

"I have seen plastic buckets catch fire with two-day-old ashes," he said.

Never put fireplace ashes in plastic buckets, Vogel said. Instead soak them down, empty them into a metal container and place it outside on a nonflammable surface away from any potential fuels, he said.

People also should avoid vacuuming around the fireplace after cleaning it out, Vogel said.

"I've seen vacuum bags catch fire. It happens two or three times a year. It's very common and it's avoidable," he said.

Keep blankets, pillows and other combustible material at least two feet away from baseboard heaters or other heat sources, Vogel said.

He also prefers people use flashlights rather than candles, Vogel said.

"If you have candles, make sure they are in a solid base. I prefer them stuck in noncombustible container. Keep an eye on them and when you leave your home, put them out," he said.

People also should have working smoke detectors, preferably one in every room, with fresh batteries that are changed twice annually - including battery backups in units that are wired to the electrical system, Vogel said.

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