Red Cross tips to stay safe in bitter cold

A winter storm will blow through the region starting late Thursday, bringing freezing temperatures and subzero wind chills that will persist for several days.

The American Red Cross serving Kansas and Oklahoma urges families to take several steps to deal with the cold and heat their homes safely. As with any potential emergency:

  1. Get a kit. Gather food, water and medicine for every member of your household, including pets. Stores may be closed, and it may be unsafe to travel.
  2. Make a plan. Know where you will go if your power is out or if your home becomes too cold.
  3. Stay informed. Sign up for free emergency alerts, follow local weather and news, and download the free Red Cross Emergency app.

“The safest place to be during a winter storm is indoors, and we encourage people to check on loved ones and neighbors to make sure they are staying warm, especially if older adults and babies are involved,” said Shelly Webb, Regional Disaster Officer for the Red Cross Kansas and Oklahoma Region.

PLAN TO STAY WARM Stay warm indoors to prevent frostbite and hypothermia, and bring your pets inside. Follow these tips to stay safe if you need to go outside:

  • Dress properly. Keep your nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes covered in warm, dry clothing. These areas are the first to be at risk of frostbite. Wear layers of loose clothing, a coat, hat, mittens or gloves, and water-resistant boots. Use a scarf to cover your face and mouth.
  • Drink plenty of warm fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid travel if you can.
  • Use ice-melting products to keep your walkways safe.
  • Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. If you or someone you are with is shaking uncontrollably, getting extremely tired, turning very pale or getting numb fingers, toes, ears or nose — get out of the cold immediately.

HEAT YOUR HOME SAFELY Overall, home fires account for most of the 60,000-plus disasters that the Red Cross responds to each year — and home fire responses are 30% higher during cold months than warmer times of year.

“Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires in this country,” Webb said. “But, there are steps people can take to avoid having this happen to them. Help keep your family safe by providing at least three feet of space around all heating equipment, testing your smoke alarms monthly and practicing your two-minute home fire escape plan.”  

HOW TO SAFELY HEAT YOUR HOME According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are most often responsible for home heating fires. Follow these tips on how to safely heat your home:

  • If you must use a space heater, never leave it unattended. Place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, such as a ceramic tile floor. Don’t place it on rugs and carpets, or near bedding and drapes.
  • Plug space heater power cords directly into outlets— never into an extension cord. Turn the space heater off every time you leave the room or go to sleep. 
  • Keep children, pets and anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment. 
  • Never use a cooking rangeor oven to heat your home.
  • Never leave a fire burning in the fireplace unattended. Make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home. Use a glass or metal fire screen to keep embers in the fireplace.
  • Have furnaces, chimneys, fireplaces, wood and coal stoves inspected annuallyby a professional and cleaned if necessary.

PREVENT HOME FIRE TRAGEDIES To help protect your family year-round, test your smoke alarms monthly and practice your home fire escape plan until everyone can escape in less than two minutes — the amount of time you may have to get out of a burning home before it’s too late.

IF YOU NEED HELP If you cannot afford to purchase smoke alarms or are physically unable to install one, the Red Cross may be able to help. Contact your local Red Cross for help.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information, including an escape plan to practice with your family. Download the free Red Cross First Aid app so you’ll know what to do if emergency help is delayed and the free Emergency app for weather alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and safety steps for different emergencies. Choose whether you want to view the content in English or Spanish with an easy-to-find language selector. Find these and all of the Red Cross apps in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.


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