You’re sitting at home, all nice and cozy from the weather outside that’s frightful when suddenly the lights go out. Now what?
Well, don’t panic because we’ve got some ideas to keep you safe the next time you are without electricity. We talked to Cameron Brown, who is a chaplain at Cook Children’s and also a firefighter for the city of Fort Worth, to keep you from being powerless when the power goes out.
- Take time, while the lights are on, to check your flashlights, pilot lights, fire alarms, carbon monoxide detectors. Check the batteries in your alarms throughout the system. Brown said to use battery-operated light sources such as a flashlight or battery-powered candle over actual flames when the lights go out. Often times, people bundle candles together for warmth. “That is a perfect recipe for a fire,” Brown said. Brown recommends strongly not using candles, but if you do, please make sure the fire is well attended at all times.
- Pay careful attention to your wood stoves, fireplaces and furnace heating. When the electricity goes out, this may be your go to heat source in your home. But this can also be a cause for fire hazards. Please don’t use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire and never build a fire without a screen to prevent sparks or burning wood from escaping a fire in your home.
- Stoves should be used for cooking, not heating. Never use a gas stove, range or an oven as supplemental heating device. Not only is it a safety hazard, it can be a source of potentially toxic fumes.
- Be cautious cooking though. When the electricity goes out, you may want to cook something on your gas stove or your electric grill. In the past month, Fort Worth firefighters responded to 15 structure fires that resulted from cooking (18 during the same time frame last year). Brown said people often cook with long-sleeved robes that catch fire. Also, don’t walk away from the fire. Keep baking soda or a Dry Chemical Fire Extinguisher around your house to put out these types of fires.
- Your water heater is not a storage area. Brown has seen people store brooms, mops and even cleaning products in the small room that contains the water heater.
- Give space heaters space. Use a three-foot rule. Keep the heater three feet away from anything that burns – paper, bedding, clothing, furniture, or curtains.
- Show care to your kerosene heaters. If you use a kerosene heater, be sure it’s in good working condition. Let the heater cool down before refueling. Adding fuel to a hot heater can start a dangerous fire. Use only the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Keep kerosene, or other flammable liquids, stored in approved metal containers and in well ventilated storage areas, outside of the house. Refuel outside the home.
- Know who to contact. If you smell something burning or if you are around a downed wire, call 911. That call will place you with the proper authorities and the fire department in your zip code. Teach your children the phone numbers and as a family, be aware of the locations of your local emergency shelters. You never know when your lights will go out or when they will come on. Especially if you have children, the elderly or anyone with chronic conditions, you may need to leave your house for warmth.
- SNAP to it. SNAP stands for Special Needs Assistance Program. It’s a database that enables your local Office of Emergency Management to register residents with special needs so it can plan for your disasters. So, if you call 911 SNAP will have the information available for the first responder. That person will see that someone has a special condition that might require assistance in the case of an emergency or disaster. Cook Children’s patient families in the Transitional Care Unit or the Rehabilitation Care Unit can register with SNAP before leaving the medical center.
- Know the drill. Practice fire drills at your house. Make it a game to do it with the lights off. It will help you if the electricity actually goes out. Be sure everyone knows where the flashlights are. Have a meeting place. Let your children know once they are out, they are out and not to go back inside. Also, teach them if the door is hot to the touch, to leave through a window. If at all possible, keep your children’s bedroom on the ground floor.