Protecting against house fires as outside temperatures drop

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — As temperatures continue to drop, the number of house fire calls continue to rise. Fire officials are now giving critical reminders on how to stay safe this winter.

“Prevention is the best firefighting, or the most important firefighting, anybody can do,” Guy Swartwout, Branch Chief for the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Office of Fire Prevention and Control, said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported 114 fatalities occurred in 2020 due to residential fires with a sharp increase of emergency calls during winter months. According to Swartwout, most of the fatalities were almost always preventable.

While the number one cause of residential fires is related to cooking, Swartwout said they’re seeing an increase in calls due to fireplaces, furnaces and space heaters being turned on that haven’t been used in months.

“Checking chimneys, making sure that a professional checks the furnace,” he suggested. “Keep everything tuned correctly so you are not getting any type of backfire or any kind of secondary problems like that. Absolutely, maintenance is critical.”

Swartwout said there are simple things one can do to prepare for an emergency, including keeping combustibles at least three feet away from any heating appliances, having a working smoke detector in your house, and having a planned and practiced escape route.

“Fire doubles every 30 seconds. Within a matter of two to three minutes a room or the entire residence is uninhabitable; you can’t survive that,” he said. “So you have to do everything you possibly can to take the right actions immediately to escape that fire because what you are doing in all of that is protecting what you love most or what you value most.”

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