Coldest Temperatures of the Winter Brings Dangerously Cold Wind Chills
Fire and Elevated Carbon Monoxide Risks Grow During Cold Weather, Especially From Alternate Heating Sources
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today urged New Yorkers to take precautions from the extreme cold descending upon New York over the next several days as a new arctic blast brings very cold air and dangerously low wind chills occurring primarily tonight into Saturday morning. In addition to significant risks of hypothermia and frostbite, this may cause problems such as frozen pipes if preventive measures are not taken.
The Governor also reminded New Yorkers to be mindful of fire and carbon monoxide dangers. Last winter, over 100 fires reported to the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control were determined to be caused by alternate heating sources and these fires resulted in five civilian injuries and three firefighter injuries.
“This round of cold weather that has settled in the Northeast is extremely dangerous. As people turn to other sources of heat to stay warm, the risks of fires and elevated levels of carbon monoxide grows,” Governor Cuomo said. “I urge everyone to take proper safety precautions when using space heaters, fire places and woodstoves, and if you are in need of a warming center in your community, reach out to your municipality for assistance.”
Wind Chill Warnings are in effect for all regions in New York State, north of Rockland and Westchester Counties. They are expected to range from 10 below zero to 30 below zero. Wind Chill Advisories are in effect for the Rockland County, Westchester County, New York City, and Long Island where wind chills are expected to range from 15 to 20 below zero at times.
Temperatures as low as those forecast this weekend can cause frostbite in as little as 10 minutes to exposed skin. Be prepared by keeping ample emergency supplies in their home and vehicles. If you are heading outdoors, dress in layers and keep your hands and head covered to protect against frostbite. Other safety tips include:
Staying Warm Indoors
If your heat goes out during the cold weather, you can keep warm by closing off rooms you do not need. Dress in layers of lightweight clothing and wear a cap.
Protecting Water Pipes
To prevent the mess and aggravation of frozen water pipes, protect your home, apartment or business by following the simple steps below.
Before Cold Weather
- Locate and insulate pipes most susceptible to freezing, typically those near outer walls, in crawl spaces or in the attic.
- Wrap pipes with heat tape (UL approved).
- Seal any leaks that allow cold air inside where pipes are located.
- Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.
When It’s Cold
- Let hot and cold water trickle at night from a faucet on an outside wall.
- Open cabinet doors to allow more heat to get to un-insulated pipes under a sink or appliance near an outer wall.
- Make sure heat is left on and set no lower than 55 degrees.
- If you plan to be away: (1) Have someone check your house daily to make sure the heat is still on to prevent freezing, or (2) drain and shut off the water system (except indoor sprinkler systems).
If Pipes Freeze
- Make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water, in case pipes burst. Stopping the water flow minimize the damage to your home. Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent.
- Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch.
- Always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.
To avoid frostbite, stay inside during severe cold. If you must go out, try to cover every part of your body: ears, nose, toes and fingers, etc. Mittens are better than gloves. Keep your skin dry. Stay out of the wind when possible. Drink plenty of fluids since hydration increases the blood’s volume, which helps prevent frostbite. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, preventing warming of your extremities. Alcohol reduces shivering, which helps keep you warm. Cigarette use shuts off the blood flow to your hands.
Frostbite First Aid
- Until you can get indoors:
- Don’t rub or massage cold body parts.
- Drink warm liquids.
- Put on extra layers of clothes, blankets, etc.
- Remove rings, watches, and anything tight.
- Don’t walk on a frostbitten foot. You could cause more damage.
- Get in a warm, NOT hot, bath and wrap your face and ears in a moist, warm, NOT hot, towel.
- Don’t get near a hot stove or heater or use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or a hair dryer. You may burn yourself before feeling returns.
- Frostbitten skin will become red and swollen and feel like it’s on fire. You may develop blisters. Don’t break the blisters. It could cause scarring.
- If your skin turns blue or gray, is very swollen, blistered or feels hard and numb even under the surface, go to a hospital immediately.
Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, especially in children and the elderly. Watch for the following symptoms: inability to concentrate, poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, exhaustion, and/or uncontrollable shivering, following by a sudden lack of shivering. If a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, get emergency medical assistance immediately. Remove wet clothing, wrap the victim in warm blankets, and give warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids until help arrives.
Be “Fire Safe”
Heating equipment is among the leading causes of home fires nationally and in New York State. Very often heating related fires are the result of a lack of maintenance or simple acts of carelessness. Nationally, an average of 45,900 home heating fires occurred each year from 2013-2015. These fires caused an annual average of approximately 205 deaths, 725 injuries and $506 million in property loss.
Taking a few simple steps can significantly reduce the possibility of experiencing a heating related fire. No matter how careful you are with home heating, you and your family should be prepared in case fire strikes.
- Buy and carefully maintain a quality smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
- Inspect your home to eliminate or control fire hazards.
- Install at least 5-pound A-B-C type fire extinguishers in the home and teach family members how to use them.
- Establish a well-planned escape route with the entire family.
- Hold practice fire drills until all family members are thoroughly familiar with plan.
- If you have an older home, have the wiring checked by a qualified electrician to make sure it meets current building codes.
- Have your chimney and fireplace cleaned and inspected yearly for creosote build-up, cracks, crumbling bricks or mortar and any obstructions.
- Keep storage areas clean and tidy.
- Keep curtains, towels and pot holders away from hot surfaces.
- Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. NEVER keep gasoline in the house.
- Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs.
Follow Proper Maintenance
Proper maintenance and an annual inspection of heat pumps, furnaces, space heaters, wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connections by qualified specialists can prevent fires and save lives. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation, venting, fueling, maintenance and repair. Review the owner’s manual to make sure you remember the operating and safety features.
- Space Heaters – Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothing, rugs, and other combustibles. Avoid the use of extension cords with electric heaters. Always turn off space heaters before leaving the room or going to bed.
- Fuel Burning Appliances -Inspect the shut off mechanism and wick for proper operation. Fill the tank with fresh fuel. Let the heater cool down before refueling. Adding fuel to a hot heater can start a dangerous fire.
- Wood Burning Appliances and Fireplaces – Do not burn trash in the wood stove or fireplace. Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods. Be sure the fire you build fits your fireplace or stove, don’t overload it. Be sure wood stoves are installed at least 36 inches away from the wall. Keep combustible materials well away from the fireplace, stove and chimney. Keep the area around them clean. Always use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from leaving the fireplace and starting a fire. Never leave a fire unattended.
- Chimneys – Creosote accumulation is the leading cause of chimney fires. A chimney that is dirty, blocked or is in disrepair can inhibit proper venting of smoke up the flue and can also cause a chimney fire. Nearly all residential fires originating in the chimney are preventable. An annual chimney inspection by a qualified chimney sweep can prevent fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Ashes – Keep wood stoves and fireplaces free of excess ash buildup. Excessive ash buildup prevents good circulation of air needed for combustion. When removing ashes, use a metal container with a tight-fitting cover. Always place ashes in an outside location away from structures. Ashes that seem cool may contain a smoldering charcoal that can start a fire.
Carbon monoxide is produced anywhere that fuel is burned and is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States. It is an odorless, tasteless and invisible killer, and the ONLY safe way to detect it is with a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide alarms range in price from $20 to $50 depending on additional features.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include sleepiness, headaches and dizziness. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilate the area and get to a hospital. Other safety tips include:
- Make sure chimneys and vents are checked for blockages, corrosion, and loose connections.
- Open flues completely when fireplaces are in use.
- Use proper fuel in space heaters.
- Never burn charcoal or a barbecue grill inside a home or enclosed space.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, or vehicle
- Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
- Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
- Never use the kitchen stove for heating a house.
- Never run a gas powered generator in a garage, basement, or near any overhang on the home. Keep it at a distance