As it snows throughout much of Maine and the temperatures drop, it is the time of year when driving in winter storms becomes more prevalent and many people begin to use their heating sources more frequently, causing the number of home fires to go up.
“It’s important to take steps to get your home ready for winter; check your vehicle and stock up with some emergency supplies,” said Dave Sheehan, regional disaster program officer for the Red Cross in Maine. “Each year, the Red Cross responds to hundreds of disasters in the state, and most of them are home fires. We urge people to follow these home-heating and vehicle-safety steps to be ready for the winter weather.”
Last month, the American Red Cross in Maine responded to 24 home fires throughout the state, helping dozens of families with lodging, food, clothing and other essentials.
Home heating safety
- Have furnaces, chimneys, fireplaces, and wood and coal stoves inspected and cleaned before another winter of use.
- Test batteries in smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors.
- Develop a fire escape plan and practice it with everyone who lives in the home.
In addition, prepare a disaster supply kit to have ready should winter storms hit. The kit should include a three-day supply of food and water per person, a flashlight, and a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and extra batteries. Other things to have on hand for the winter include sand, rock salt, or kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery, and warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots, and warm clothing for all household members, along with extra blankets.
Nearly half of the households in the U.S. use alternative heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or wood or coal stoves to stay warm. Fixed and portable space heaters, including wood stoves, are involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths.
If someone is using a space heater, the Red Cross recommends that people look for a model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over. Space heaters should be placed on a level, hard, and nonflammable surface in the home. Other safety tips include keeping all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces; not leaving portable heaters and fireplaces unattended; and keeping children and pets away from space heaters.
Residents wishing to receive free smoke alarms installed in their homes can schedule an appointment by calling 874-1192 ext. 113.
Getting one’s vehicle ready for winter
Plan ahead. Have a mechanic check tires, battery, brakes, and antifreeze levels. Make sure the vehicle is ready for winter with a window scraper, shovel, and kitty litter or sand in case of getting stuck and extra clothes in the trunk. Pack high-protein snacks, water, a first aid kit, a flashlight, a small battery-operated radio, an emergency contact card with names and phone numbers, extra prescription medications, blankets, and important documents or information that may be needed.
Winter driving safety
The Red Cross encourages following these tips about how to drive safely during a winter storm and what to do if one becomes stuck in one’s vehicle:
- Fill the vehicle’s gas tank and clean the lights and windows to help one see.
- Pay attention to the weather forecast. Before leaving, let someone know where you are going, the route you plan to take, and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
- If you have to drive, make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
- Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
- Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
- Don’t pass snow plows.
- Know that ramps, bridges, and overpasses will freeze before roadways.
Weather alerts and first aid tips
People can download the Red Cross emergency app for instant access to winter storm tips and weather alerts for their area and where loved ones live. Expert medical guidance and a hospital locator are included in the first aid app in case travelers encounter any mishaps. Both apps are available to download for free in app stores or at redcross.org/apps.