Space heaters boost West Metro winter fire numbers

Nothing is more comforting on a cold Minnesota winter night than extra heat.

Residents may find themselves reaching for a space heater, but that may lead to more heat than what’s needed a warm room. Way more.

During the West Metro Fire Board quarterly meeting Jan. 9, Interim Chief Sarah Larson said within the last two months, West Metro has responded to two fires started from space heaters.

“One was a fire in a child’s room,” Larson said. “A space heater was left on and ended up in a toy chest and it caught on fire. Luckily the parents were there and our response time was four minutes. That response time and the parents being home saved the kids life.”

On the 4700 block of Yates Avenue, faulty electrical wiring on a space heater caused a fire in a room housing two children. Larson said both children were admitted to the hospital for smoke inhalation but were released after a couple days.

“It shows what we’ve known for a long time,” Larson said during her report. “With commercial building inspection programs, the fire problems are not in commercial buildings, it’s in homes.”

Larson has been working for 18 months to launch a residential safety program for Crystal and New Hope residents. She said West Metro hopes to secure enough budget revenue to debut the program to 50 houses. The costs would include sending deputy fire marshals into residential homes.

“We really want to make dents in homes,” she said. “We want to install smoke detectors, which we do on calls, and provide fire extinguishers.”

Homes with senior citizens and children would be targeted first.

“Once we show up on the block, the rest of the block will want it,” she said. “It will be fun for the kids.”

Board President Gary Laurant said they will build the program into future budgets.

“If we go beyond 50 houses, we don’t know if that will be sustainable,” he said. “We will put it in the prevention budget and bring people in to offset it. Hopefully it won’t be an increase in personnel cost and will be successful and the board believes in it.”

Larson said space heater education will be a focus of the program because they are among the top two causes of fires in the state. She recommends replacing space heaters every five years.

“The new space heaters turn off when they get too hot,” she said. “I’ve seen 30 year old space heaters. After a while, electronics start to fail. There is a certain amount of time you want to keep them, but you don’t want to keep something like that for too long.”

Larson also recommends check for space heaters on Consumer Reports to find the safest ones.

“With fire safety, when appliances aren’t in use, unplug them,” she added.

Contact Anna Woodwick at anna.woodwick@ecm-inc.com

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