Folks, it’s that time of year again.  With all of Winter’s glory also comes a bunch of fire hazards.  Please take a few simple precautions to prevent a fire from destroying your home (and possibly someone else’s home) or worse — taking a life.

First, you should make sure you have working smoke detectors on every floor of your house.  That annoying chirp-chirp-chirp noise you hear in the middle of the night?  That means the battery probably needs to be changed — it doesn’t mean you take the thing apart and “wait until you can get to the store for some 9-Volts”.  Because let’s face it, batteries are rarely at the top of anyone’s shopping list.  So make sure yours are in good working order, even if it’s 2 AM and you want to strike at the smoke detector with a bat.  The Baltimore City Fire Department makes the rounds of the city every so often, with free smoke detectors!  They’ll even install the things for you!  Yes, I know your house is a mess, or the kids are running wild, or you’re still in your robe…believe me, they’ve seen worse.  Let them in, and let them install the smoke detectors — they’ll even give you free advice on fire safety.  They’d rather see you in your robe than have to come back another time after you and your entire family have died in a house fire — trust me on this.  You don’t have to wait for the fire department to make their neighborhood sweep — you can call them and they’ll come to your home to install new smoke detectors.

Space heaters.  They’re wonderful when they work properly, can kill you when they don’t.  Make sure yours is rated by a well-known electrical testing lab (the most common is Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.) Look around your house — the toaster oven, lamps, etc should have the UL seal of approval — and so should your space heater. Never use a space heater that requires kerosene as a fuel source.  Not only could the fumes kill you, tip that sucker over and you’ve just poured gas on the fire — literally and figuratively.  If you have a kerosene heater, dispose of it properly, and buy yourself a safe heater.  Keep children and pets away from it, and never leave it running when you’re out of the house or asleep.

Another thing we’ve been hearing about lately is carbon monoxide poisoning.  Just a few days ago, two people died and 11 more were taken to a hospital — don’t let this happen to you.  Again, you can buy relatively cheap carbon monoxide detectors that will sound an alarm.  Carbon monoxide is odorless, and by the time you feel the symptoms of exposure — it might be too late.  Which brings me to my last Winter Warning:

Even if your electricity is not working, PLEASE DO NOT USE YOUR GAS OVEN AND/OR STOVE TO HEAT YOUR HOME.  I could give you a million and one reasons as to why this is such a bad idea — so just PLEASE don’t do it.  Call BGE, apply for Energy Assistance, call an electrician — just please don’t use your oven and stove as a heat source.

One more suggestion — if you have elderly or disabled neighbors, please check on them from time to time.  Not only is it a nice thing to do (and you might make a new friend or hear great stories about what your neighborhood was like “back in the day”) you might end up saving someone’s life.