Prevent winter gas leaks and house fires with these tips: IL State Fire Marshal

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — As thermostats stay cranked up for wintry temperatures, the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal is urging people to stay protected from carbon monoxide and fires caused by heating equipment.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can lead to poisoning or even death when inhaled too much. CO poisoning can cause flu-like symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. In 2023, Illinois Fire Departments responded to 8,823 CO leaks.

While subtle signs could point to a CO presence — such as condensation on walls and windows, house pets becoming sluggish, and persistent odors from malfunctioning appliances — it is only truly detectable through CO alarms and special devices.

What to do when carbon monoxide is present

If you may be experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning, smell a gas leak, or your CO alarm activates, immediately leave the building. Only open windows if they are on the way out and turn on exhaust fans if they are present. Once outside, call 911. You can also ask a neighbor to use their phone.

If someone falls unconscious or can’t leave the building, open nearby windows or doors that lead outside and stay as near to those openings as possible until first responders arrive.

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To prevent a leak, officials urge residents to install CO detectors on each floor of their homes and within 15 feet of each bedroom. It is recommended that CO alarms be tested at least once a month and to be familiar with the sounds they make. If the detector needs to be replaced, check the manufacturer’s instructions for information.

What to know about home heating fires

Carbon monoxide isn’t the only threat to the well-being of homeowners this winter. The National Fire Protection Association said heating equipment is one of the leading causes of house fire deaths. From 2016 to 2020, firefighters across the country averaged 44,210 fires per year that involved heating equipment, with 480 civilian deaths annually.

Space heaters were the cause behind one-third of the fires, and four out of five heating house fire injuries during this time. They also resulted in nearly nine out of 10 deaths caused by heating equipment house fires. Heating equipment was often placed too close to things that could burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing mattresses or bedding, which resulted in half of home heating fire deaths.

Nearly half of all home heating fires happened in December, January and February.

How to keep safe and warm this winter

To prevent these unfortunate incidents from happening in the first place, OSFM officials said homeowners should check their carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarms, furnaces and furnace filters to ensure they are all working properly.

“During the winter months we see an increase in home fires caused by heating deceives or malfunctioning heating equipment. Today, contents inside homes burn hotter and faster than ever before leaving less than 3 minutes for your family to escape,” Illinois State Fire Marshal James A. Rivera said. “This is why testing smoke and CO alarms monthly, checking expiration dates and replacing broken alarms is the best way to help prevent a fire death from occurring. It’s simple, Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives.”

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Here are some other tips state officials shared to help protect against winter heating house fires:

  • Always turn off portable or space heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.

  • Same as CO alarms, smoke detectors should be installed on each floor of your home and within 15 feet of each bedroom.

    • Test the alarm at least once a month and get to know the sounds they make.

    • Check the manufacturer’s instructions for replacement information if a smoke alarm no longer works.

  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year, and change furnace filters frequently.

  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heaters, water heaters, or central heating equipment.

  • Keep interior and exterior air vents clear of blockages or obstructions.

  • Keep three feet of space between anything that can burn and heating equipment, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves or portable space heaters.

    • Also keep three feet between children and space heaters/open fires.

  • Buy heating equipment with an automatic shutoff feature.

  • Ensure the fireplace screen is sturdy to prevent sparks from flying into the room.

    • Make sure ashes are cooled before placing them into a metal container, and keep the container a safe distance away from your home.

  • Never use an oven or range to heat your home.

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