Staying warm and safe during the cold winter months

With Jack Frost starting to nip noses, more residents are starting to use their fireplaces to keep warm. Peter Bernstein, Redding Fire and EMS Company #1 fire marshal and Georgetown’s deputy fire marshal, advises residents to inspect and clean fireplaces before use and to properly remove embers when the fire is put out.

“I always recommend before use, have the fireplace inspected annually and have it cleaned if required,” said Mr. Bernstein.

To clean the fireplace, Mr. Bernstein said to use a local, reputable chimney cleaner, not one that randomly calls the house or knocks on the door.

“You are definitely guaranteed to get more quality work for your money. They’ll also inspect to see if there are cracks in the flue pipe and let you know if you need to re-line your chimney,” he said.

When burning a fire, make sure a screen or glass doors are in front of the fire, don’t leave the opening unprotected, he said.

Whenever using the fireplace, make sure the flue is open, he said. “Don’t presume, make sure the damper is open. And always burn seasoned fire wood, not firewood cut this year. Wood should be seasoned for one year before burning it,” he said.

The oils in the wood that cause moisture, or creosote, build up inside the flue and can cause a chimney fire. Seasoned wood doesn’t produce as much creosote, he said.

“Never burn pine, pine has too much creosote  in it and causes problems. Never burn wrapping paper or cardboard or household garbage — only firewood. Paper burns very hot and chunks of paper get sucked up and plug up the flue pipe and smoke backs up, causing a chimney fire,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Newspaper is okay to use when igniting a fire, he said.

If using a Duraflame log, only burn one log at a time and don’t break them apart, he said.

“Once broken, they are releasing chemicals that burn hot and can damage the flue,” he said.

“If you have a chimney fire with smoke backing up into the house or you hear a jet engine type roar from inside the chimney, call 911. That is a legitimate 911 call. It happens, just one of those things. Call 911 and wait for the fire department to come, the chimney can usually handle what’s happening inside,” he said.

The fire department will come with the proper equipment to remove what’s burning and put out the fire.

“I don’t recommend people put those out on their own,” he said. “Some people won’t know if they have a chimney fire until a neighbor or person driving by sees flames coming out of the chimney. The fire department might just show up on your doorstep.”

Mr. Bernstein said the same thing goes when using a wood stove.

“If you have a wood stove, clean the flue pipe at least twice a year and never store wood next to the stove,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many wood stove fires we’ve had when the fire is burning in the house. The stove ignites the wood pile and it’s burning inside. Numerous times we’ve had that.”

Stack the wood pile away or outside and make sure there is some type of barrier to prevent small children from falling or touching the stove, he said.

“One hand on that stove and you’ll have second or third degree burns,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Even adults need to be careful.”

For electric fireplaces, not vented, check the power cord, he said.

“Make sure nothing is too close to it that will over time heat up and ignite,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Keep decorations away from the hearth or opening of the fireplace. Garland, live or fake, can dry up and ignite from sparks from the fireplace, he said.

“I recommend keeping the hearth and area around that clear of combustibles. They make noncombustible mats that go on the floor. It’s a good idea to have so when sparks fly out they won’t start a fire on the carpet or floor,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Mr. Bernstein also wants to remind residents that a smoke detector should be on every level of the house and in every bedroom.

“Batteries should’ve been checked when we set the clocks back. People should also have carbon monoxide detectors on the level of the house they sleep on,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Ember removal

When a fire is put out, leave the embers in the fireplace with the damper open until the embers can be touched by hand, he said.

“Never presume embers are cold until you move the embers around with a shovel and you can put your hand on it and it’s cool,” he said. “If you burn a fire Christmas morning and burn it all day through Christmas night, two days later you can still have hot embers.”

Even if there is no fire burning, the damper needs to stay open. If the damper is closed, there is a good chance of carbon monoxide staying in the house, he said.

When embers are cool enough to handle, put embers in a metal bucket, not plastic or cardboard. Then take the bucket and put it outside, away from the house, at least overnight on a cool night, said Mr. Bernstein. After a day or so, dump the embers  on gravel or even in the garden. If any embers are still warm and are dumped on leaves, they can be dried out and cause a brush fire.

“We’ve already had two fires in town where people removed ashes and dumped them into the woods, and they weren’t out and started brush fires,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Never leave ashes in any container in the house or directly outside the house, he said. The container can heat up and burn whatever it is on, he said.

“The Christmas Day fire in Stamford last year was caused when ashes were left in a garbage bag in a garbage shed outside the house and ignited the back of the house,” he said. “We’ve had it numerous times, had it in Redding a couple years ago, they did the same thing. — put the container of ashes on the deck and it burned through the deck and the bucket fell. They were lucky it burned through the deck and not up the side of the house. It’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

Mr. Bernstein said it doesn’t matter what the weather is, put the embers in a metal bucket outside away from the house.

“I hope everyone has a safe holiday,” said Mr. Bernstein.

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