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New Orleans fire officials urge heater safety as locals brace for cold

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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

As temperatures drop, fire officials are warning people to take care in how they keep warm.

"We want to keep our citizens safe and not have to respond of those types of tragedies," said New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell.

McConnell is talking about a fire in an abandoned building that claimed multiple lives seven years ago, Thursday. 

"We had eight folks die that night," said McConnell. "They were setting fires inside trying to keep warm."
 
While McConnell urges those who don't have normal housing to seek shelter as temperatures drop, he says others must still take precautions. He says most important is ensuring you have a working smoke detector.

"Smoke alarms might not put the fire out, but it will save peoples lives. It reduces your chance of dying in a fire by over half," said McConnell. 

McConnell also encourages those with central heating to have their system checked every year by a professional. Yet, for residents who use alternative sources of heat, like gas heaters or electric space heaters, he says it's up to homeowners to stay safe.

"Make sure they're away from combustibles, about three feet away from any combustible surface. That applies whether it's a gas heater or an electric heater. You want to make sure nothing can catch on fire," he said. 
 
McConnell says it's important, when using a gas heater, to ventilate the area by cracking a window. And ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector.

"Make sure you have the heater in area it can't get knocked over and children will never be alone with it," said Chief McConnell. 
 
When it comes to electric space heaters, he says the same rules apply.

"Electric heaters, it's real important to plug it directly into the wall. Don't put it on an extension cord because those are the types of things the draw a lot of current," said McConnell. 

Chief McConnell says that can lead to overheating and the cord catching fire. 

He also advises folks not to use an oven or stove to heat their home. While gas stoves and ovens emit carbon monoxide, he says electric ovens are no better. 

"They're meant to be on for a certain length of time in an enclosed space so, in order to heat your home, what are you going to do? You're going to turn it on and open the door, which will make that heating element be on for an extended period of time and not be utilize the way it supposed to be used. It can overheat," he said. 

Though we may not be used to cold weather in the city, McConnell says it's important to be prepared. 

"You won't die from freezing here in New Orleans, if you're in the building, but you will die from carbon monoxide or a fire in your home," said McConnell. 

Chief McConnell reminds residents New Orleans Fire Department has smoke alarms and will install them in your home for free.

For more information or to get one put in your home, head to www.nola.gov/nofd or call (504) 658-4714.
 
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