Editorial: Stay warm and safe

Jan 04, 2018

With extreme cold continuing across the state, a number of agencies are issuing warnings and tips for staying warm and safe.

At the top of the list: If you are unable to keep your home heated safely and comfortably, call 211 for resources that can help you and your family. Also avoid prolonged outdoor activities and if you must be outdoors — even just to bring in wood — dress to minimize skin exposure.

Here’s a distillation of other useful information The Journal has received:

Hypothermia, frostbite

Exposure to extreme cold can cause serious medical conditions including hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature is too low and in serious cases, may lead to death.

Symptoms include decreased consciousness, sleepiness, confusion and/or disorientation, shivering, pale or blue skin, numbness, poor coordination, and slurred speech. In severe hypothermia, shivering decreases or goes away, and the person becomes unconscious and has very shallow breaths.

Frostbite is caused by the freezing or near freezing of a part of the body resulting in numbness, tingling, or a change in color (paleness, blue, and whitish) — fingers, toes and the tip of the ears or nose are commonly effected areas.

If you suspect you might have hypothermia or frostbite, rewarm yourself slowly and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers. Wear a warm hat; 30 percent of heat loss is through the head. Wear a scarf, mittens or gloves and proper footwear to reduce skin exposure. Infants should be in a room in which the temperature is 61 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drink plenty of fluids and warm/hot drinks. Eat regular, balanced meals to give you energy; good nutrition is important. Keep active when it’s cold, but not to the point where you’re sweating. Keep dry and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible. Cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, since all three cause heat loss. Try to keep one room in the house warm.

Ask your doctor if you are on any medications that affect your ability to maintain a steady body temperature (such as neuroleptic medications and sedative hypnotics).

In your home, prepare for power outages. Ensure you have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.

Generators

If using an emergency generator, always operate it outdoors and away from any open window. Don’t run a generator inside a home or garage. Use gas-powered generators only in well-ventilated areas. Follow manufacturers’ instructions such as only connecting individual appliances to portable generators.

Don’t plug emergency generators into electric outlets or hook them directly to your home’s electrical system, as they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger. Consider purchasing and installing a permanent home generator with an automatic “on” switch.

Fire and carbon monoxide detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but toxic. It is a product of fuel combustion, and a buildup can result from a furnace or space heater problem. Incidences of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning rise during cold weather, as a result of malfunctioning appliances, poor ventilation and improper use of heat sources.

Place smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of your home, outside sleeping areas and inside each bedroom. Symptoms of CO poisoning can mimic the flu, so make sure the CO detector is in working order. Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly to make sure the batteries are working, and replace the batteries at least twice a year.

Stove and range

The stove, range and other kitchen appliances are designed for cooking, not heating. Use them only as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. In addition to creating a fire hazard, a gas stove or oven can present a carbon monoxide risk when used for heating.

Space heaters

Use only space heaters that have been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Never use a device indoors that is designed for outdoor use.

Place the space heater on a level surface away from foot traffic, at least three feet from combustible materials. Inspect the cord for fraying, and after plugging it in, periodically feel the cord near the outlet to make sure the coating is not getting hot.

Do not run the space heater cord under a rug or carpeting, and never use an extension cord for a space heater. Keep children and pets away, and turn off the space heater when you leave the area.

Heating, hot water and plumbing

Keep the furnace area clear of flammable materials and keep vents clear to provide a good air supply to your heating system to ensure proper combustion.

Water pipes that are exposed to cold temperatures may freeze and burst. Don’t ignore drips or odd noises from your heating system — call your heating company to investigate. Wrap exposed pipes in your basement with pipe insulation to help them retain heat and avoid freezing. For as little as $1 per 6 feet of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy.

Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of water in your pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak. Drip faucets to reduce pressure build-up in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the released pressure will reduce the likelihood of a rupture.

Use a lit incense stick to check for air leaks around windows and doors. If the smoke is sucked out, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping.

In general

Keep your car fuel tank at least half-full, as gas stations rely on electricity to operate their pumps and might not have back-up power in the event of an outage. This will also help prevent the gas line from freezing up or running out of gas and becoming stranded.

In the event you become stranded in your car, make sure you are prepared by having blankets, food and water, and extra batteries.

Do safety checks on your elderly neighbors and those who are ill.

Don’t forget your pets. Do not leave your pet outside for extended periods of time.

Individuals with medical or life support devices should have extra batteries for medical equipment and devices. Notify your utility company, local fire or police department if you need assistance.

Fuel Assistance (LIHEAP)-eligible households might qualify for emergency assistance in the form of a payment to utility or fuel delivery companies if you have less than 1/8 of a tank of fuel or are in danger of having utility services disconnected when electricity is needed to operate your heating system. Call 338-3025 or 1-800-498-3025 to request emergency fuel assistance or if you have any questions.

Waldo County Woodshed provides quarter-cord piles of firewood for short-term heating assistance, with wood available on a first-come, first-served basis. Recipients must sign up in advance by calling 338-2692; best to call weekdays between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The agency has wood yards in Searsmont, Waldo, Monroe, Frankfort, Searsport, Belfast, Thorndike and Brooks.

Winter driving

Watch weather reports and plan travel accordingly. Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area such as a garage to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure tires are properly inflated and in good condition. Check windshield wiper fluid. Ensure the vehicle is clear of all ice and snow. Never mix radial tires with other types of tires.

Carry a fully charged cell phone and preprogram roadside assistance numbers. If you become stranded in your vehicle, stay with the vehicle and tie a brightly-colored cloth to the antenna or use another distress signal. Run the engine and heater just long enough to remove chill to conserve gas.

If you’re traveling, update the emergency kits in your vehicles with a shovel, windshield scraper and small broom, flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, water, snack food, matches, first aid kit with pocket knife, necessary medications, blanket(s), tow chain or rope, road salt and sand, booster cables, emergency flares, fluorescent distress flag, extra hats, scarves and mittens.

Finally ...

Looking at the long-range forecast, there's not much relief in sight, so we're providing a list of resources below for more information.

And, last but not least, when you have finished reading this week's Journal, throw it in the fireplace or wood stove. Every little bit helps.

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For additional preparedness, shelter and safety information, visit MainePrepares.com, or visit MEMA (Maine Emergency Management Agency) on Facebook or Twitter.

For information about frostbite, hypothermia, and other concerns, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/index.html.

For more information about fire and carbon monoxide dangers, visit the National Fire Protection Association: https://tinyurl.com/yaa7gr3u.

More space heater safety information can be found on the U.S. Department of Energy website at https://energy.gov/energysaver/portable-heaters.

The American Red Cross offers additional tips for avoiding frozen pipes at redcross.org/prepare/disaster/winter-storm/preventing-thawing-frozen-pipes.

For more information on staying safe all winter long, visit CDC at http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp.

211 Maine: 211maine.org.

FEMA "Winter Storms and Extreme Cold": ready.gov/winter-weather.

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