As sub-zero temperatures, snow, high winds and ice coat the nation this week, the Southern Maryland Chapter American Red Cross urges families to take precautions to keep safe. Cold weather often results in power outages, frozen pipes and other life-threatening events when people use unsafe alternative heat sources and don't take precautions against the cold. The elderly and the very young are especially susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and other cold weather health problems.
The Red Cross believes that keeping safe and warm in cold weather means you have to take care of home heating hazards, dress appropriately and prepare for cold weather emergencies.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, four out of seven home fires occur during December, January and February. About half of these fires are caused by using candles and overloading electrical circuits. As families turn to alternative heating sources out of necessity or to avoid the rising cost of oil and gas, they should take the following precautions:
Be careful with candles Do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.
Inspect fireplaces and wood stoves Have your chimney connections and flues inspected by a professional and cleaned if necessary prior to the start of every heating season. Use a sturdy screen when burning fires. Burn only wood - never burn paper or pine boughs.
Use generators correctly If you have a portable generator and the power goes out, always plan to keep the generator outdoors-never operate it inside, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home's wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Connecting a cord from the generator to a point on the permanent wiring system and backfeeding power to your home is an unsafe method to supply a building with power.
Create a disaster supplies kit Get together lifesaving items in both your home and vehicle. Go to www.redcross.org for a list of materials.
Prevent frozen pipes When the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes. Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing. Keep the thermostat set to a consistent temperature.
Check smoke alarms Make sure alarms are working properly and replace batteries as necessary.
Be aware of overuse of electrical outlets Don't overload your electrical outlets. Be careful of extension cords that present hazardous walkways.
The chapter continues to need immediate community support both financially and volunteers to continue to provide emergency assistance to residents of Southern Maryland in their time of need. Contact the any of the Chapter offices to donate time or money to replenish the local Disaster Relief fund.
The American Red Cross is the only non-governmental organization mandated by the U.S. Congress to "alleviate human suffering" of victims of disasters such as fires, floods, hurricanes, and technological and transportation crises. To continue its humanitarian mission, the American Red Cross relies on donations of money and time from the public.
All relief services, including hotel, food, and clothes vouchers, are gifts. Trained volunteers are the backbone of the Red Cross Disaster Relief Program, whose services include mental health services, damage assessment of residential property, and food and temporary housing.
Everyday, 24 hours a day, the American Red Cross of Southern Maryland provides relief for local people whose homes were affected by fires and natural disaster.
Disaster Action Teams, consisting volunteers, are on-call around the clock, 365 days a year. Once on-site, members of the team survey and assess the damage, and provide for the immediate needs of people displaced by the fire or disaster. These emergency needs may include food, clothing, and temporary housing.