Friday, December 17, 2010

Space Heaters: Recalled for a Reason

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of "Flow Pro," "Airtech," "Aloha Breeze" and "Comfort Essentials" heaters sold at Walmart stores nationwide from December 2001 to October 2009.” – KTLA News

Is it just me or does “Aloha Breeze” and “Comfort Essentials” sound enticing? A few hours before this recall, my roommate called me from Target with the intention of purchasing a space heater for our small apartment. The windows in our high-rise are hardly suitable for Chicago winters and continuously keep our rooms at a chilling temperature of around 45 degrees.

“Lauren, I’m buying this space heater for our apartment so we don’t have to wear our winter coats to bed. You can thank me later,” said my roommate under the impression that I would be grateful.

“If you bring a space heater into our place, I will make sure it ‘disappears’ in the middle of the night and that the keys are changed while you are in Cincinnati so you cannot enter our apartment. You do know that space heaters are involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths, right?

This was my reaction before the huge recall on space heaters. And yes, I knew that statistic on hand.

When 2.2 million heaters go on recall due to “reports of burn injuries and property damage from fire”, you know there is a major problem. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that “heating equipment - primarily space heaters and fireplaces - caused an estimated 66,100 home structure fires resulting in 480 civilian deaths, 1,660 injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage in 2008.”

As a Red Crosser, I know that space heaters pose a danger to my friends and community and these numbers reinforce my fears. Not only has my house burned down before, but last Thursday, the other Marketing and Communication intern, Zach, also lost his home in a fire. I bet you can’t guess what caused his fire.

A space heater.

And the scary part of his story is that his mother had absolutely no control over the fire. She watched the spark jump from the space heater. Within seconds, it was clear that there was nothing she could do to stop the flames from taking over and she hurried out of the house to call 911. She was just sitting there in her living room. And then it was gone.

Now, I would like to consider myself a reasonable person. I understand that for one reason or another, getting rid of your space heater might not be something you are willing to do. Here are some safety tips which I hope you follow so I can sleep without worrying about receiving another call in the middle of the night. Trust me, it’s not the kind of call you want to hear during the holidays.

• Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
• Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
• If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
• When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
• Obviously, don’t buy any of the space heater brands that were put on recall.

Chicago, please be careful this winter season. Every day I come into work and receive an incident sheet from Disaster Services from the day before. Every day I see the numbers of fires increase as the weather gets colder. Every day I count the number of individuals who are displaced from their homes.

Be safe Chicago.

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