Fire officials: Before you turn up the heat, tune-up on safety

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Local fire officials are using this week to share some new information and some reminders when it comes to preventing a fire in your home.

This is day two of the anniversary of the Great Chicago fire which killed more than 250 people and left more than 100,000 homeless back on October 8th and 9th of 1871. Fire officials say a lot has changed about the way crews fight fires since that horrific tragedy, but fire fighters nationwide say this week serves as a reminder each year that fires are still just as dangerous.

The theme of this year's fire prevention week is 'Have 2 Ways Out.' On Monday, Columbia-Richland Fire Department crews hosted a parade through downtown to mark the start of the week.

Fire officials say this year's theme is to encourage families to look around their homes for two different exit points should a fire happen. They say the most obvious exits are multiple doors to a home. Officials say if you do not have more than one door, they say you should figure out which windows you would use in the event of a fire. Officials say it's not enough to acknowledge exit points, but you need to practice escaping and that means unlocking windows and doors.  "We hate bars on windows, because a bar will not let you get out," said Columbia-Richland Fire Department Chief Aubrey Jenkins. "If you've got a bar, you want to make sure that you're able to get that bar off, if you have a lock on it, make sure you have a key right there with it so you can get out of the home."

Chief Jenkins says if you're on the second floor of an apartment complex or home, it's also smart to have some sort of rope ladder that can be used as a means for escape.

While this week is a time to talk about preparation and prevention, officials say with the sharp drop in temperatures it's also a good time to talk about safe ways to heat your home.

Fire fighters say space heaters and kerosene heaters must be attended at all times. Kerosene heaters must also have ventilation. "The one thing about kerosene heaters is you're not only dealing with just the flames, you're dealing with flammable liquids, as well, so it's kind of like double trouble," said Chief Jenkins. Jenkins adds anything that could be flammable must be at least three feet away from those objects.

Officials say never use a stove or oven as a way to heat your home. Also, for those with central heat and air, fire crews say before you start using your heat again it's time to get your unit checked by a reputable dealer. It's also important to check and change your filters. "Make sure you keep your filters properly changed because if they're not changed, they're clogged up and it's causing your unit to work harder. If they work harder they could malfunction, and if they malfunction they could spark some type of fire, so you want to make sure you're properly having those serviced," said Chief Jenkins. Fire officials say don't forget to also have your chimney serviced, as well. They say chimney fires often could be avoided with just a routine check-up and cleaning.

The American Red Cross says every eight hours they respond to a disaster in the Columbia Region. They say use this time to check the batteries in your smoke alarms and put these tips into practice to help best avoid being a victim of a fire.

For more information on National Fire Prevention week visit:

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