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OPINION — Welcome to the fall edition of Snapshots of Safety. Fall has come and our weather and trees are starting to change. The trees may look beautiful as they change colors and shed their leaves. The outdoor fires, fireplaces, and cocoa drinks can give us a well-needed sense of comfort. With all that in place let us not forget the need to be safe.

Here are four major areas to consider when thinking about safety in this chilly season.

1. Outdoor foliage

The trees are shedding: A couple of things to consider

  • As you get ready to rake up a pile of leaves don’t forget that children and animals may choose to hide or play in those enticing piles.
    • Don’t place the pile in the driveway and make sure the piles are only of leaves. Leaf piles are a lot of fun for kids and pets.
    • Always check when raking or driving over a pile of leaves. You never know what could be hiding in the pile.
  • Most city governments plan a leaf pick-up day with their dates published in our own Racine County Eye.
  • There may be a lot of rain on the way; wet leaves create a hazard on the sidewalk and on the street. If possible, remove the leaves from the sidewalk, especially if they are wet. This will make your sidewalk a safer place to walk for you, your neighbors and even their pets.

Pruning your trees

  • Before you start to prune your trees make sure that you are away from the power lines. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 400 deaths each year from electrocution. Let’s not become a statistic.
    • When you use ladders remember to wear the right kind of shoes and proper eye protection.
    • Make sure the ladder is on a firm footing.

2. Fires: great for fall weather

A nice cozy fireplace will soon be glowing

  • If you have a fireplace, make sure your damper is open before using your fireplace, so that the carbon monoxide and smoke stay out of your home. And just as important, make sure to close it after you use your fireplace so a draft will not fill your home and take that comfy warm feeling away.
  • Make sure the kids stay safely away.
  • Also, make sure that there are no flammable items – like towels or rugs – near the fireplace since a single spark can cause a full fire very quickly.
  • A fire extinguisher or a bucket of sand or water may be a good idea near the fireplace.
  • Never leave your fire unattended.
  • And keep the fireplace tools in a safe place, especially if you have small children in the house.
  • Creosote logs are a must.
    • Start the new season of indoor fireplace use with a creosote log. When they burn, they set off chemicals that help the buildup of creosote become ash and easier to clean.
    • Remember that it is a good idea to clean up the ashes after every burn.

Outdoor fires

Those outdoor fires are nice but also require some safety concerns.

  • Make sure there is water or sand close by when you have created an outdoor fire.
  • Make sure you know how to use your fire accelerant properly. Remember that fumes can also ignite, so don’t overuse the accelerant.
  • Additionally, check your local ordinances. In some places– like Racine – you are not allowed to have a fire pit, but you may have an outdoor fireplace.
    • In the City of Racine, outside fireplaces and cooking appliances are allowed, as are portable fireplaces, provided they are used in a location not hazardous to life or property.
    • A 15-foot setback from any building or property line is required and recommended UL- or FM-approved models.
    • Materials and fuels used in outdoor fireplaces may not include rubbish, garbage, trash, construction waste, any material made of or coated with rubber, plastic, leather, hazardous chemicals, petroleum-based materials, or any material that produces offensive smoke or odors (city ordinance).

3. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

  • Change the battery in your smoke detector and your carbon monoxide detector if you haven’t done so this year already.

4. Test your furnace before it gets cold

As you prepare for fall, and eventually winter, take this preventive safety step.

  • If you have a furnace, test it now for at least 10 minutes.
  • If it needs repairs, it may be a while for:
    • Someone to be able to come to fix it because of the worker shortage.
    • Parts to arrive due to the supply chain issues we are experiencing. It could take months to get a part.

This is a conversation starter and not a comprehensive list. Please use caution when working with fire. Our local fire departments and especially Racine Fire Local 321 care for your safety! As we all do at Racine County Eye.

Henry Perez brings you Snapshots of Safety with the Racine County Eye. – Credit: Loren Lamoreaux

Henry Perez is a retired public safety administrator and a current Alderman in the City of Racine.

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