Firefighters face several challenges in cold weather; tips on space heater safety

HARTFORD -- This week’s freezing temperatures is when people are urged to stay indoors to keep warm, but first responders do not get that luxury as their priority is to keep everyone safe.

Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz with the Hartford Fire Department said his firefighters endure a number of challenges when battling a large fire and the subzero temperatures make it worse.

“You can’t feel your fingers, you can’t feel your toes,” said Deputy Chief Ortiz.

Ortiz said the uniforms firefighters wear are not meant for warmth but to be non-flammable. He added when it gets to be extremely cold, it will slow firefighters down from putting out the flames as water will quickly freeze, creating icy conditions.

“We will have guys freeze. They will have icicles forming on their nose especially when throwing water from elevated positions, the mist will just freeze on contact right onto our faces,” added Ortiz.

While the fires they respond to have different causes, a common one in the winter are space heaters.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 40 percent of fires are caused by improper use. They are the usual go-to option when it comes to staying warm but there are pros and cons.

Pros include: they are inexpensive, they are small and portable and they are long lasting. Cons include: your electric bill can skyrocket, it can only heat up a small area and they are known to cause fires.

“They need to keep it away from flammable materials. Any type of fabric or furniture, preferably the center of the room and to make sure to never run extension cords under rugs,” said Steve Salva, manager of Ace Hardware of Middletown.

Salva said he knows all too well about space heaters. His store sells them in all shapes and sizes and they have been popular items.

He added it is important to keep a safe distance from you and the heater and to be extra careful about extension cords as too many of them can lead to hazardous situations.