Cottonwood Heights is a proud member city of the Unified Fire Authority. Our city houses two fire stations, Station 110 and Station 116. Our UFA liaison is Assistant Chief Mike Watson.
To learn more about UFA, please see their website at www.unifiedfire.org.
Monthly Fire Statistics Report
By Mike Watson - Unified Fire Authority Assistant Chief
Did the header of this article catch your attention? I sure hope so. It is a very simple statement, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated. Dirty chimneys have the potential to catch fire. This article will explain what is meant by a dirty chimney, how they get that way and how to clean them.
Chimneys are designed to expel the by-products of combustion in wood burning-fireplaces. By-products of combustion include things such as hydrocarbon, unburned wood particles, smoke, gases and water vapor. Water vapor comes from one of two possible conditions or sources. Since chimneys are cooler in temperature than the fire in your fireplace, condensation occurs when the hot gasses rise through the chimney. The second source of water vapor is the burning of unseasoned (green) wood. Water vapor is released as the wood burns. In both of these scenarios, the residue that sticks to the chimney inner walls is called creosote. Creosote builds up on inner chimney walls and it is highly combustible. Herein lies the problem; fireplaces are designed to contain fires, but chimneys are not. A chimney with creosote residue is a dirty chimney.
Chimney fires can and do cause fatalities and massive damage to structures. Why? Because they are hard to access for extinguishment. Quite often, the wood framing of the chimney catches on fire, due to the extremely high temperatures associated with chimney fires. Interior walls need to be opened up and the exterior siding needs to be removed so firefighters can get water on these fires. The cost of repairs can add up very quickly. The inconvenience of having to vacate your home until those repairs are made can be overwhelming.
How do you know if your chimney is on fire? Some who have reported chimney fires have stated that they heard a low rumbling sound. Others have reported a lot of dense smoke in their home or loud popping or crackling noises. On some occasions, there was no smoke inside the home at all, but the rumbling or popping sounds were very loud.
How often should a chimney be cleaned? If you only use your fireplace occasionally, annual cleaning should do the job. If you use your fireplace for heat or on a regular basis, your chimney needs to be cleaned more often. A certified chimney sweep (cleaner) can give you some recommendations based on how often you use your fireplace.
A nice warm fire in the fireplace is relaxing and comforting. Regular chimney maintenance and cleaning can completely eliminate the chance that a beautiful fire in your fireplace catches your chimney on fire. Dirty chimneys can catch fire, but clean and maintained chimneys cannot. Let’s all do our part to keep wood-burning fires in our fireplaces, where they belong.
Take Steps to Prevent Fires, Falls
Falls are frequently the cause of many of the medical calls to which Unified Fire Authority responds each month, especially during the winter. Also, cold weather causes many residents to turn on furnaces that haven’t been used for months, or to use alternative heating sources in their homes. Please use the following tips to help transition your household safely into the winter months.
If you smoke, smoke outside. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays. Wet cigarette butts and ashes before throwing them out or bury them in sand. NEVER smoke in bed.
Give space heaters space. Keep them at least three feet away from combustibles. Shut off and unplug heaters when you leave or when you are going to bed.
Be kitchen wise. Wear tight-fitting clothing or short sleeves when cooking. Use oven mitts to handle hot pans. Never leave cooking unattended. If a pan of food catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner. Don’t cook if you are drowsy from medication.
Stop, Drop and Roll. If your clothes catch on fire, stop (don’t run), drop gently to the ground, and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over to put the fire out. Use cool water to cool the burn and seek medical attention right away.
Smoke alarms save lives. Make sure you have working smoke alarms installed in every living area in your home. Make sure to test your smoke alarms and change the batteries as needed. If you need help reaching your alarms, please ask someone to assist you.
Plan for a fire. Know two ways out of every room in your home. Make sure you can easily open windows and doors. Plan your escape route around your abilities. Know to call 9-1-1 in case of a fire and if there is a fire, get out of your home and stay out.
Exercise regularly. Exercise builds strength and improves your balance and coordination. Ask your doctor about the best physical exercise for you.
Take your time. Get out of chairs slowly. Sit a moment before you get out of your bed. Stand and get your balance before you walk. Be aware of your surroundings.
Clear the way. Keep stairs and walking areas free of electrical cords, shoes, clothing, books, magazines and other clutter.
Look out for yourself. Poor vision will increase your chance of falling, so visit an eye specialist once a year. Improve lighting in your home. Use lights to light the path between your bedroom and your bathroom. Turn on the lights before using the stairs.
Wipe up spills immediately. Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors. Have grab bars installed on the wall in the tub and the shower and next to the toilet.
Be aware of uneven surfaces. Use only throw rugs that have rubber, non-skid backing. Smooth out wrinkles and folds in carpeting.
Tread carefully. Stairways should be well lit from top to bottom. Have easy-to-grip handrails installed along the full length of both sides of the stairs.
Put your best foot forward: Wear sturdy, well-fitted low-heeled shoes with non-slip soles. These are safer than high heels, thick-soled athletic shoes, slippers, or stocking feet.
Dryer Vent Safety
Clothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water which, during the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer through an exhaust duct (more commonly known as a dryer vent).
A vent that exhausts moist air to the home exterior should meet the following requirements:
1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected!
2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent hardware is available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector's report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard!
3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames! Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.
Studies show that house fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.
*Facts provided by nachi.org
Radon Gas: a silent but preventable threat
What if your home had been invaded without your knowledge by an enemy you couldn’t detect with any of your senses? There would be no way to protect yourself until it was too late and the unthinkable happened.
Cottonwood Heights resident Charlie McQuinn dealt with this very scenario. The culprit: radon gas. The odorless, colorless and tasteless gas had built up in his home without his knowledge. As a result, he was diagnosed with lymphoma a year ago after doctors found cancerous tumors in both his lungs and his abdomen.
“After four rounds of chemo, the tumor in my lungs was growing and the one in my abdomen was shrinking,” said McQuinn, a non-smoker. “My doctor told me, ‘The likely cause is radon gas in your home. You need to have it checked.’ I had heard about radon before, but I hadn’t even thought of that.”
Radon gas is created when the uranium in granite breaks down into radium, which then decays into radon. The radioactive gas moves up through the soil into the atmosphere where it disperses and presents little concern. However, when it seeps into a building, it can accumulate and present a health concern for occupants.
The surgeon general has warned that excessive radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today, and excessive levels have been found in all fifty states. In Utah, approximately 30 percent of homes have radon levels that are above the EPA recommended action standard of four pico-Curies per liter of air (pCi/L).
In Cottonwood Heights, 621 homes had been tested for radon as of March 2011. Of those 621 homes, 29.6 percent of the tests showed levels greater than four pCi/L.
Some residents, including McQuinn, choose to install a sub-slab depressurization system. A hole is drilled into the foundation of the home, and a PVC pipe with a constantly-running fan create a venting system that draws the gas out from under the structure and disperses it into the atmosphere.
Utah residents can get a testing kit for just six dollars through the state’s radon website, www.radon.utah.gov. If needed, sub-slab depressurization systems usually cost between $1200 and $1300 and are installed by private contractors.
As for McQuinn, he is now cancer-free, and because of the sub-slab depressurization system, radon levels in his home now hover at a very safe 0.8 pCi/L. He says he wouldn’t change his experience because of the miracles he says he’s witnessed in the last year. However, he is using his experiences to urge others to take action so they don’t have to deal with the same consequences he and his family have suffered.
“I knew about it, I didn’t take it seriously, and I got lung cancer,” he said.
A Citizen's Guide to Radon Booklet (EPA)
Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction/How to Fix your Home (EPA)