Prepare for Cold Weather, Freezing Temperatures With These Tips

Gwinnett Fire Chief Casey Snyder offers advice on hypothermia, frostbite, driving in icy conditions and what to stock up on during the winter.

From Casey Snyder, Fire Chief, Gwinnett Fire and Rescue Services

With the temperatures getting colder and the potential for icy conditions on the rise, Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services offers the following tips to staying safe and warm.  

The primary concern during the winter months is a loss of heat, power, gas and telephone service. It is always a good idea to stock up on essential supplies in the home such as food, water and medications. Post important numbers by the telephone such as utility companies and emergency responders.

Every household should have an emergency preparedness plan and a winter weather kit that should include, but not be limited to, the following items:
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered NOAA weather radio and a portable AM/FM radio. (These may be your only link to the outside world in the event of a disaster or winter storm).
  • Extra food and water such as non-perishable/high-energy foods and snacks that don't require refrigeration or cooking.
  • Extra medications.
  • Extra baby items, if there are infants or small children in the house.
  • First-Aid supplies.
  • Blankets, sleeping bags, and extra clothing for warmth.
  • Remember to charge cell phones ahead of time, especially if you know that inclement weather is possible in your area.
  • If you have a fireplace, gather and store extra firewood in a dry sheltered area of your home.
  • Remember to have all home heating appliances (furnace, fireplace, and wood-burning stove) serviced annually by a qualified technician.
Install and maintain working smoke detectors on every level of the home and inside each of the bedrooms. A carbon monoxide alarm should also be installed outside the sleeping area. Develop a home escape plan and practice a fire drill with the entire family.

The use of home heating devices such as wood stoves, fireplaces and space heaters can increase the potential for a fire to occur. Have all home heating appliances serviced annually by a qualified technician. The fireplace provides warmth but can be dangerous if not properly used or maintained. Build a small fire in the fireplace, just enough to heat the room, but don't depend on the fireplace to heat the whole house.  Be sure to open the damper to vent the smoke while the fireplace is in use. Extreme caution should be used, especially if the fireplace or wood stove has not been serviced. Kerosene heaters should only be used in a well-ventilated area. If using space heaters, remember to leave plenty of room between the device and anything combustible. Space heaters should be placed at least 3 to 4 feet away from anything that could catch fire, such as drapes, bedding, furniture, and clothing. Use space heaters that are approved by an independent testing laboratory and offer built-in safety features. Put the fire in the fireplace completely out and turn off space heaters before going to sleep or when leaving the home for any period of time. Never use the oven or stove in the kitchen to heat the home.  All generators should be used outdoors in a well-ventilated area. Place the generator a safe distance away from the home. Never use the generator inside a garage or basement. If you experience a loss of power, do not go outdoors in the dark to investigate. You could be electrocuted by energized electrical lines that have fallen upon the ground. Report downed power lines to the appropriate utility company and notify firefighters immediately by calling 9-1-1. All downed power lines should be considered "live," and appropriate measures should be taken to avoid contact.

There are also some things you should know if caught in a vehicle during the extreme cold. Avoid being out on the roads, if at all possible, especially during icy conditions. If you are on the roads, slow down and watch for other motorists:
  • Plan your travel and check the weather conditions for your area or the area you are traveling to.
  • Avoid driving during icy conditions if at all possible.
  • Drive slow and watch for black ice on the roadway.
  • Allow extra time when traveling in adverse weather conditions.
  • Discuss your travel plans and routes with a family member or friend.
  • Fully winterize your vehicle before the cold-weather season starts.
  • Carry a winter storm survival kit in your car.  Items include: a blanket, sleeping bag, flashlight (with extra batteries), portable radio, first-aid kit, high calorie non-perishable food items (foods that don't require refrigeration or cooking), bottled water, road flares, extra clothing, tissue paper, a small bucket of sand, waterproof matches, windshield scraper, and jumper cables.
If you have pets, or if you live on a farm, remember that animals should be moved to a sheltered area such as a barn during extremely cold temperatures. Pets should also be moved indoors if at all possible.

Be prepared for hypothermia and frostbite whenever exposed to the cold for any length of time. Know the signs and how to treat them properly. The best treatment is prevention. Avoid being outdoors during extremely cold temperatures or during a winter storm. If you are outside, limit your time in the cold and wear multiple layers of clothing. Try as much as possible to stay dry.

The warning signs of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.  To treat a person for hypothermia, remember to warm the body slowly.  Replace wet clothing with dry warm clothing. Wrap the person with warm blankets and provide a warm soup broth.  Be sure to avoid alcohol, coffee, or any other hot beverage.

Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by exposure to extreme cold.  Frostbite causes a loss of sensation (feeling) and a white or pale appearance to extremities, such as fingers, toes, earlobes, and the tip of the nose.  If signs of frostbite are observed, be sure to seek medical attention immediately.  Warm the body slowly by wrapping with warm blankets.  Follow the same treatment measures for hypothermia and only give warm soup broth if the person is conscious and alert, and has no breathing difficulties.

For additional information on winter fire safety, please contact the Gwinnett Fire Community Risk Reduction Division at 678.518.4845 or email fireprograms@gwinnettcounty.com.


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