Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. A winter storm can:
- Last a few hours or several days;
- Knock out heat, power, and communication services; and
- Place older adults, young children, and sick individuals at greater risk.
IF YOU ARE UNDER A WINTER STORM / BLIZZARD WARNING, FIND SHELTER RIGHT AWAY
- Stay off roads.
- Stay indoors and dress warmly.
- Prepare for power outages which may last for several days.
- Use generators outside only and away from windows.
- Listen for emergency information and alerts from the media and local officials.
- Look for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
- Check on neighbors.
HOW TO STAY SAFE WHEN A WINTER STORM THREATENS:
- Know your area’s risk for winter storms. Extreme winter weather can leave communities without utilities or other services for long periods of time.
- Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking, and weather stripping. Learn how to keep pipes from freezing. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups.
- Pay attention to weather reports and warnings of freezing weather and winter storms. Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
- Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Do not forget the needs of pets. Have extra batteries for radios and flashlights.
- Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water, and non-perishable snacks. Keep the gas tank full.
- Learn the signs of, and basic treatments for, frostbite and hypothermia.
- Stay off roads if at all possible. If trapped in your car, then stay inside.
- Limit your time outside. If you need to go outside, then wear layers of warm clothing. Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
- Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven.
- Have a carbon monoxide alarm in place, especially if using alternative heating devices.
- Use safe heating devices.
- Reduce the risk of a heart attack. Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow.
- Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia and begin treatment right away.
- Check on neighbors. Older adults and young children are more at risk in extreme cold.
RECOGNIZE AND RESPOND
- Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers, and toes.
- Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
- Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
- Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Remove wet clothing. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
West Michigan has seen its share of snow and brutally cold weather this winter season and the threat of winter home fires and personal injury are real. As you stay cozy and warm this winter season, be fire smart and use some common sense.
Did you know home fires occur more in the winter months than any other time of the year? Half of all home heating fires occur in the months of December, January and February. According to the United States Fire Administration, heating is the second leading cause of home fires following cooking and more than 900 people die annually in winter home fires across the United States. Home heating fires peaked in the early evening hours between 5 and 9 p.m. This four-hour period accounted for 30 percent of all home heating fires.
Also, the risk of having a heart attack and stroke increases during the winter months due to overexertion when shoveling, pushing a car or walking in deep snow. Take frequent breaks or ask a neighbor, family member or friend to shovel your driveway or sidewalk.
Here are some simple and important safety tips to help prevent winter home fires:
- Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from all heat sources including fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators, space heaters or candles.
- Never use an oven to heat your home, especially during a power outage.
- Turn space heaters off and unplug them when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Consider using flameless candles or battery powered flashlights if the power goes out.
- Never use an extension cord or power strip with a space heater. Always plug the device directly into a wall outlet and after 10 or 15 minutes of use, feel the cord and outlet. If either are warm, discontinue use of the heater.
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected each year by a licensed or certified professional.
- Clear snow drifts from furnace exhausts and air intakes to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Install carbon monoxide alarms on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and invisible gas produced from heating and cooking equipment, vehicles and portable generators.
- Test your smoke alarms monthly, change non long-life batteries annually and replace alarms over 10 years old.
- Help your local firefighters by shoveling a 3-foot circle of snow and ice away from the nearest fire hydrant.
And consider following these cold weather safety tips:
- Check on your neighbors as well as family and friends who are at risk and may need additional assistance during this dangerous cold spell.
- Watch pets closely and keep them indoors when possible. Animals can suffer from hypothermia, frostbite and other cold-weather injuries.
- Be aware of children playing in the streets, particularly climbing on or running out from behind large snowdrifts. Parents should remind their children to be aware of plowing operations and traffic and avoid these dangerous areas.
- Be aware of the hazards of wind chill. As the winter wind speed increases and the outdoor temperature drops, heat is carried away from a person’s body more rapidly, which will lead to severe hypothermia. Wind chill indices are forecasted to range from -22 to -48 degrees below zero Fahrenheit on Wednesday January 30th causing exposed skin to freeze in a matter of minutes.
- Signs of hypothermia includes uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, drowsiness and exhaustion.
- Signs of frostbite include loss of feeling or pale appearance of fingers, toes or the face.
- Stay indoors if possible. If you must go outside, wear protective clothing, such as hats, mittens, gloves, scarf and a warm coat.
By following these precautions, you will keep everyone in your family safe and secure Where You Live!
With the winter of 2015 wearing on with increasingly frigid temperatures, State Fire Marshal Richard Miller urges fire safety for all Michiganders, especially the elderly who are most at risk when it comes to fire.
“It is so important to talk about fire safety with our elderly parents, grandparents, friends or neighbors,” said Miller. “Start with making sure they have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Go over fire safety practices and develop a fire escape plan with them. These are the things that will have the greatest impact on their ability to prevent or survive a fire.”
Miller said non-working or missing smoke alarms were the common reasons for many of Michigan’s home fires and related fatalities, and noted that having working smoke alarms may reduce the risk of dying in a fire by as much as 60 percent.
“Install smoke alarms next to sleeping areas and on every level of the home. Interconnect them so when one sounds, they all do,” said Miller. “Test alarms monthly and change batteries annually. For the deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing smoke alarms that use a flashing light or a bed shaker to alert them of a fire emergency.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, adults over age 65 are more than twice as likely to die in fires. Seniors over age 85 are more than four times as likely to die in a fire. Older adults are at higher risk because their ability to respond to or escape a fire is often slower due to physical limitations.
Many precautions can be taken to help ensure fire safety, including:
- Smoking is the number one cause of home fires that kills older adults.
- Smoke outdoors when permissible and never smoke when using medical oxygen or near the presence of oxygen tanks.
- Fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of fire-related injuries in the elderly.
- Never leave cooking unattended.
- Wear short sleeves or roll them up so they don’t catch on fire.
- Never lean over a lit burner.
- Keep anything that can burn away from the stove.
- If a pan catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner.
- Turn off the stove if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time.
- Have a licensed electrician inspect the electrical system to be sure it is safe and meets the applicable Michigan Electrical Code requirements.
- Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or light fixture.
- Plug major appliances directly into a wall outlet.
- Do not use cracked or worn extension cords; do not overload cords.
- Have the furnace inspected by a professional every year.
- Never use the oven or stove to heat your home.
- Unplug a space heater if you leave the room or go to bed; keep it at least three feet away from anything that can burn.
- Make sure the heater has an automatic shut-off if it tips over.
- Never leave candles unattended.
- Place them in sturdy holders away from anything that can burn.
- Never use them in bedrooms or where medical oxygen is being used.
- Always use a flashlight, not a candle in an emergency.
Practice an escape plan
- Know and practice two ways out of every room in your home.
- Practice unlocking and opening the windows and doors.
- If you use a wheel chair or walker, check all the exit routes in advance to be sure you can get through doorways. If not, map out acceptable escape routes and discuss your escape plans with your family, the building manager or neighbors.
- Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids, and a phone within reach next to your bed.
- Your first priority in fire is always to get out and stay out. Do not stop to call the fire department until you are safe outside.
- Never try and fight the fire yourself and do not stop to gather personal belongings.
- If there’s smoke, stay as low to the floor as possible and cover your mouth.
- If in an apartment building or nursing home, always use the stairways to get out – never use the elevator.
- Call for 911 if you cannot escape or are attempting to get out.
Adults over age 60 comprise 20 percent (20.2%) of Michigan’s population. More than 32 percent (32.8%) of all Michigan households have someone age 60 or older living in them.
If you know of someone who is in need of a free smoke alarm or have questions about smoke alarms, email firstname.lastname@example.org.