As sub-zero temperatures, snow and high winds blanket the nation this week, the American Red Cross urges families to take precautions to keep safe. Cold weather often results in power outages, frozen pipes and other life-threatening events when people use unsafe alternative heat sources and don't take precautions against the cold. The elderly and the very young are especially susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and other cold weather health problems.
The Red Cross believes that keeping safe and warm in cold weather means you have to take care of home heating hazards, dress appropriately and prepare for cold weather emergencies.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, four out of seven home fires occur during December, January and February. About half of these fires are caused by using candles and overloading electrical circuits. As families turn to alternative heating sources out of necessity or to avoid the rising cost of oil and gas, they should take the following precautions:
- Be careful with candles -- Do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.
- Inspect fireplaces and wood stoves -- Have your chimney connections and flues inspected by a professional and cleaned if necessary prior to the start of every heating season. Use a sturdy screen when burning fires. Burn only wood - never burn paper or pine boughs.
- Use generators correctly -- If you have a portable generator and the power goes out, always plan to keep the generator outdoors-never operate it inside, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home's wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Connecting a cord from the generator to a point on the permanent wiring system and backfeeding power to your home is an unsafe method to supply a building with power.
- Create a disaster supplies kit -- Get together lifesaving items in both your home and vehicle. Go to www.redcross.org for a list of materials.
- Prevent frozen pipes -- When the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes. Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing. Keep the thermostat set to a consistent temperature.
- Check smoke alarms -- Make sure alarms are working properly and replace batteries as necessary.
- Be aware of overuse of electrical outlets -- Don't overload your electrical outlets. Be careful of extension cords that present hazardous walkways.
As you prepare to be outside in severe cold weather, please remember the following:
- Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.
- Most of your body heat is lost through your head so wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.
- Dress in warm layers so you can remove items if you get too warm.
- Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia that can be a serious medical condition: confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.
- Recognize frostbite warning signs: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, waxy feeling skin. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.
- Wear waterproof, insulated boots to help avoid hypothermia or frostbite by keeping your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.
- Get out of wet clothes immediately and warm the core body temperature with a blanket or warm fluids like hot cider or soup. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol if you expect you or someone you are trying to help has hypothermia or frostbite.
For valuable information on preparing for a surviving cold weather contact the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of The American Red Cross at 419.329.2900 or visit www.redcross.org.