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Beware of the perils of wintry weather

December 28, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Ice on sidewalks and snow on roads are hazards for everyone, but for older men and women, the fear of falling or suffering a serious injury because of foul weather can increase.

With winter also comes the addition to many homes of space heaters and other fire hazards.

Three local officials discussed these potential hazards - and what people can do to stay safe this winter.

Smoking, cooking major fire hazards

Offering safety tips to seniors, Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co. Lt. T.J. Barnes said that seniors who smoke need to be especially careful.

All cigarettes should be fully stubbed out in deep ashtrays to prevent ashes from spilling out. Barnes also warned people not to smoke in bed, because falling asleep with a lighted cigarette could spark a fire.

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Along with smoking-related fires, the kitchen is also a hot spot.

When cooking, wear tight clothes to prevent a baggy sleeve or other area of clothing from accidentally catching on fire, and turn the handles of pots and pans inward to prevent someone from knocking over a pot or pan, Barnes advised.

Batteries in smoke detectors should be changed twice a year - many do it when clocks are adjusted for daylight savings time - and detectors themselves should be replaced after 10 years, Barnes said.

If space heaters are being used this winter, keep 3 feet of space between the heater and all other objects. When buying a kerosene heater, make sure it has a shutoff feature, which stops kerosene from flowing if the heater is knocked over.

Older people who have caregivers should review and practice escape plans with their caregivers. Otherwise, Barnes said, it's possible the older person could escape from a fire safely, but the caregiver might enter the building seeking him or her.

Barnes advised that a specific meeting place be designated in the event of a fire.

Salt's benefit not overrated

If the men and women in charge of caring for others rely on it, homeowners should give salt a chance.

Capt. Jeremy Mackrell, with Community Rescue Service, said that ambulance crews use salt on sidewalks in the winter.

Buckets of salt are placed in ambulances and it is spread on the sidewalks leading to homes when medics arrive. That way, Mackrell said, the ice hopefully will have melted by the time medics leave the home with a patient.

He also advised people to dress appropriately for the weather, even if they only intend to be outside for a brief time to perform a task such as starting a car or retrieving mail.

People might be tempted to run outside in a T-shirt or light pajamas, but if they slip, fall and lose consciousness, hypothermia could set in, Mackrell warned.

Those who are physically incapable of shoveling snow should consider asking for help, because medics occasionally respond to calls for people who have fallen or suffered medical problems because they were not fit to shovel, he said.

He also said that if sidewalks are icy, people should walk in the snow instead. Snow can offer a little more traction, and will provide a more padded surface should someone fall.

On the road

John Shriver, a driver's education instructor in Hagerstown, offered some practical tips for anyone who will drive on bad roads this winter.

Drivers should slow down, turn on their headlights and follow preceding cars at a safe distance. Good snow tires also are helpful, he said.

He advised motorists to keep a radio on to hear updates on road conditions and to hear whether any police bulletins related to driving have been issued.

Drivers should have a full tank of gas, an ice scraper, a flashlight and a blanket - which can help if a driver is stranded.

Black ice and snow that has been packed down can be slick and are hazards.

"The biggest thing is when people are out there driving, they have to drive according to the conditions," Shriver said.

Everyone, including older drivers, should scrutinize whether driving in foul weather is necessary.

"Is it really worth going out?" he said people should ask themselves, "or if I have to go out, can I wait until conditions improve?"

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