Nov 22

Staying Safe Through A Missouri Winter

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Winters in Missouri can take us on a weather roller coaster ride. A week that begins with sunny skies and fifty degrees can bring rain and chilly temperatures by Tuesday and school-cancelling snowfall on Wednesday.

That’s why being prepared before the weathercaster issues a warning is the best approach.

There are two key areas to prepare for the winter weather: our homes and our vehicles.

In this week’s “Missouri Viewpoints”, we get expert advice on both.

“December, January, February and March are [when we have] the highest incidents of fires because we have holiday lights, we have increased cooking, we have auxiliary heaters people have in their homes, more sources of open flames, so that’s when have the most fires; in the winter.”

MWSnap135That’s the advice from Dan Bruno, the Fire Marshall of the West County Fire District in the St. Louis area.

Even though it takes a little time and may cost a small amount of money, Bruno recommends having fireplaces inspected before you light the first fire of the season. After that, be sure to keep everything at least four feet away from the fireplace when there’s a flame or when there could be embers still active. Embers could be active hours after a fire goes out.

That’s not the only inspection to do. When pulling those lights and extension cords out of the attic or garage, look them over closely before sending electricity through them. With extension cords, Bruno recommends replacing them at the first sign of wear, including loose prongs or damage to the outer coating.

He’s got a more direct suggestion when it comes to the decorative lights.

“These holiday light cords are so inexpensive and they’re so prone to damage by the weather, especially when you hang them outside. The sheeting will get damaged or it will get thinned down due to exposure to ultraviolet light, at the end of the season, I recommend people throw them away.”

You should do the same check on space heater cords before using those. The biggest danger of space heaters, according to Bruno, is what’s around them. Make sure to keep paper products, curtains, furniture, fabrics and anything else that could dry out and ignite away from the heaters.

Getting rid of old lights, suspect extension cords and limiting the use of candles are good ideas, but Bruno says the first part of staying safe is knowing the escape route if there is a fire. That starts with testing the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, then making sure everyone in the home knows where to go in an emergency.

Winter weather emergencies come fastest on the roadways, though.

While regular maintenance of your vehicle is a good idea year around, there are specific precautions to take and preparations to make before winter sets in.

Phil Linck from AAA Missouri says winter safety begins with a winter checkup. If you aren’t comfortable checking the belts, hoses, tires and battery yourself, he recommends taking the car into your mechanic’s shop. Most shops offer some kind of winter inspection package to look for potential problems.

One key part of preparing your car for winter that is often overlooked is the windshield washer fluid. During the summer months, Linck points out, many drivers put water in the windshield washer system. When the temperature drops in the winter, any leftover water will likely freeze the lines and maybe even the pump that sprays fluid onto the windshield. If that happens, anything smeared on your windshield, like slush, mud or cinders, won’t easily come off and will obstruct your view of the road.

MWSnap136When sleet and ice hit, though, don’t rely on the windshield fluid.

“A lot of people, unfortunately, try to clear the ice and slush with their wiper blades instead of using an ice scraper. Over a couple of weeks of wintertime, you’re going to wind up tearing a wiper blade. So, get out a little bit earlier and let’s clear the windshield off.”

Another good step to take to be prepared for a bad situation, like sliding off the road or getting stuck and stranded, is to keep an emergency kit in the vehicle. Linck suggests packing it with, among other items, a flashlight, a blanket or two, a cell phone charger, jumper cables, a small shovel, non-perishable food (like granola bars or protein bars) and bottled water.

The roadways may be more dangerous because of the still-lagging economy. That’s because many cities have cut back on the use of ice melt and cinders when bad weather hits. The impact of that is roads that could be more dangerous than before, especially when freezing rain, sleet and snow are heavy.

On the web:

Missouri Association of Fire Chiefs: www.MOChiefs.org

AAA: www.AAA.com

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