Fire calls heat up as weather cools down

Published 10:17 pm Monday, October 14, 2013

Cooler temperatures have already started arriving in central Alabama, and as residents work to heat their homes, local emergency officials are reminding them to do so safely.

Selma Fire Department Chief Michael Stokes said the downward turn in temperatures could lead to an increase in workload around his department.

“We’ll see an increase in calls, especially at the beginning of the season, as people start heating up their homes,” Stokes said.

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Stokes said the department usually sees an uptick in calls after residents restart their central heating systems, which have sat largely unused for the better part of a year.

“Throughout the off season, it has collected dust and such things, and when the systems are turned on again, that dust will put off an odor and people will call us just as a precaution,” Stokes said.

While many calls placed after a central heating system has been restarted tend to be precautionary, Stokes said calls regarding space heaters are usually more serious.

“With space heaters, if we are getting a call, it is more likely to actually be something because the caller can actually see the smoke or fire — where as the cause of smoke from inside a central heating unit is hidden,” Stokes said. “Modern day space heaters have safety features which help prevent fires, but they are man-made so you can’t totally rely on them.”

Capt. Chris Graham, with the Selma Fire Department, said safety features installed in modern space heaters have improved the overall safety of the appliance, but he is quick to add that they are not 100 percent accident-proof.

“I think it has made a difference. You never want to leave one by itself. If you leave it alone, all kinds of things could happen,” Graham said.

Stokes said along with staying in the room while operating a space heater, it is also important to keep flammable materials — like clothing and curtains — at a safe distance.

“We ask that everybody keeps things 36 inches away from all sides of their space heater,” Stokes said.

Graham, who has been with the department for 18 years, and worked as a fire inspector since June 2012, said anyone still using an older model space heater should strongly consider buying a new one, as the new safety features make them a little safer to operate.

“I would say it is worth it to buy one of the newer space heaters with tilt-shut off mechanisms, if you are able to,” Graham said.