DCA Offers Winter Weather Fire Safety Tips

Fire Safety Experts Urge Residents to Take Precautions to
Prevent Fire Hazards in the Home


TRENTON, N.J. – As the popularity of alternative heat sources such as portable space heaters and wood stoves increases, so does the potential for fire hazards. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' (DCA) Division of Fire Safety encourages people to take common sense precautions to prevent fire hazards in their homes this winter season.

"It is imperative that residents who choose to use a space heater or stove this winter take the time to install a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector in the room where it is located," said DCA Acting Commissioner Richard E. Constable III. "These detectors are the first line of defense against fire and carbon monoxide poisoning."

The Division of Fire Safety reminds people that kerosene heaters are prohibited in all but one- and two-family houses in New Jersey, and are completely banned in some municipalities. Of the most common types of space heaters, radiant electric heaters with no exposed heating elements are the safest to use.

Residents are urged to avoid fire hazards by following these tips:

  • Only purchase an electric heater that bears the label of an independent testing laboratory and that has a tip over switch that will shut off the current, if the unit is knocked over.
  • Leave at least a three feet distance between the space heater and everything else in the home. A space heater may cause flammable material -- such as curtains, magazines and area rugs -- to ignite if it gets too hot.
  • Never leave a space heater or stove unattended. Turn space heaters "off" when leaving the room. Extinguish fires in stoves or fireplaces.
  • Shut off the heater and unplug the unit, if the cord or plug is hot to the touch.
  • Enforce a "kid zone" or "pet zone" around any source of heat including space heaters, fireplaces, and stoves. Make sure children and pets are not within three feet of those sources of heat.
  • Have all heating equipment checked thoroughly by a professional. This includes the fireplace and chimney. Chimney fires are generally caused by a buildup of creosote within the chimney flue. Have a professional chimney sweep inspect the chimney before using any fireplace.
  • Always use a fire screen that is rated to keep sparks and hot embers confined to the hearth when using a fireplace or wood or coal stove.
  • Place ashes in a suitable metal container, make sure the embers are extinguished, and take them outdoors immediately. Make sure that the ashes are not placed near anything flammable.
  • Never use an oven for heating.
  • Develop and practice a family escape plan at least twice a year, including at night, so that everyone knows what to do when the smoke or carbon monoxide alarm sounds.

"Fires in the home happen more often during cold weather months because people spend more time indoors and sometimes use alternative heating methods to keep warm," said Acting State Fire Marshal William Kramer. "It is imperative for residents to pay attention to the tips the Division of Fire Safety has provided so they can avoid fire tragedies this winter season."

In the event of snowfall and accumulation, the Division of Fire Safety also encourages residents to help remove snow around on-street fire hydrants and Fire Department Connections (FDCs) affixed to the exterior of commercial buildings. Both are critical resources for fighting fires, but are often neglected during snow removal activities. Clearing fire hydrants and FDCs may be a fire department responsibility in major cities; however, in suburban and rural areas serviced by volunteer fire stations it may not be part of the routine, especially with municipal public works departments busy with other snow removal responsibilities.

It is also important for residents to clear pathways through the snow for emergency responders. Residents should shovel paths in front of their own homes, as well as in front of the homes of elderly and disabled neighbors.

The Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in the State. The Division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code, as well as for implementing public education and firefighter training programs.

For more information, please visit www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dfs on the DCA website.