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Press Release Keep Warm, Keep Safe: State Fire Marshal Offers Home Heating Safety Tips

Be aware of fire and carbon monoxide hazards related to home heating
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  • Department of Fire Services

Media Contact for Keep Warm, Keep Safe: State Fire Marshal Offers Home Heating Safety Tips

Jake Wark, Public Information Officer

Image of a fireplace with the words "keep warm keep safe"

STOWAs Massachusetts heads into the autumn months, State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey reminded residents to “Keep Warm, Keep Safe” with home heating safety measures that everyone can take.

"We’re starting to see some chilly mornings this fall,” Fire Marshal Ostroskey said. “Home heating is a leading cause of residential fires, so whether you have a furnace, fireplace, or electric heat, it’s time to start thinking about heating safety. We want folks to ‘Keep Warm, Keep Safe’ this winter.”

More than 1,300 Heating-Related Fires Last Year – But Zero Deaths

Massachusetts fire departments reported that some form of heating equipment was involved in 1,317 building fires in 2020, causing 20 civilian injuries, 19 fire service injuries, and an estimated loss of nearly $10 million. For the first time since 1997, however, no lives were lost in these fires.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Smoke Alarms

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of poisoning death in the United States, and the most common sources of carbon monoxide in the home are fuel-burning appliances like stoves, furnaces, and other heating equipment.

“Because we can’t see, smell, or taste carbon monoxide, it’s important to have working CO alarms on every floor,” Fire Marshal Ostroskey said. “If they activate, leave the residence and call 9-1-1 when you’re in fresh air. Be sure to keep vents and exhaust pipes clear of snow, bushes, and debris that could block them.”

Working smoke alarms can give you precious extra minutes to escape a fire. Residential fires burn much faster than they did in past decades because of changes in construction and manufacturing, and you may have less than three minutes after a smoke alarm activates to get out of the house. 

“The early warning from smoke and CO alarms could be the difference between life and death, especially when we’re asleep,” Fire Marshal Ostroskey said.

Space Heaters

Space heaters need space! Keep space heaters out of reach of kids and pets, and make sure drapes, furniture, and any flammable items are outside a three-foot “circle of safety” around the device. Space heaters are intended to heat smaller areas temporarily and should not be a primary home heating source.

“Don’t leave a space heater unattended or running while you sleep,” Fire Marshal Ostroskey said. “Be sure to plug them directly into a wall outlet rather than an extension cord or power strip that can’t handle the current.”

Never use an unvented kerosene heater. It is illegal to sell or use them in Massachusetts.

Natural Gas and Oil Heat

If you use natural gas or oil to heat your home, have the heating system professionally checked each year: it will reduce heating costs and the risk of fire or CO poisoning. This can be especially important if the furnace hasn’t been used since last season. If you have a furnace or water heater with a pilot light, keep the three-foot “circle of safety” clear of anything that could catch fire, and don’t store gasoline, painting supplies, or other flammable solvents in the home: their vapors can be ignited by a pilot light.

Fireplaces and Woodstoves

If you use a fireplace or woodstove, be sure to have your chimney inspected and flue cleaned at the start of the season. This will detect any cracks or broken mortar that will let heat escape or cause a fire, and it will remove the accumulated creosote that causes most chimney fires. Open the damper before you light the fire, don’t close it until the fire is out and the embers are cold. Keep any flammable items outside a three-foot “circle of safety” around the stove or fireplace and dispose of ashes in a metal container with a secure lid placed outside away from the building.

More Detailed Information

The Department of Fire Services offers a wealth on these and other home heating safety topics for the public, the fire service, and care providers. To learn more, and to access heating safety brochures in seven languages, visit www.mass.gov/keepwarmkeepsafe.


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