As temperatures continue to drop across New England communities, it is necessary to take extra precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones against the elements.
Since winter officially began last week (Dec. 21), town officials have offered a number of tips to help residents stay healthy, warm, and safe this holiday season and beyond.
Protect against fires
“We tend to spend more time at home enjoying the warm comfort of a fire place, space heater, lighting up the Christmas tree or just bundling up,” said board of fire commissioners chair Nate Wilson. “We want to remind residents to be extra observant of potential fire hazards.”
Holiday staples in the home, such as Christmas trees, space heaters, candles, strings of lights and a warm fire in the fireplace, all come with risks of house fires. The Southington Fire Department advises families be alert and aware, and take precautions.
“Warm, cozy houses will dry out your Christmas trees, so always keep them watered,” said fire chief Richard Butler. “That is the leading cause of house fires during the holidays, especially when we light a fire in the fireplace or light a candle nearby.”
According to Butler, artificial trees can be just as dangerous when they are covered in combustible decorations—ribbons, bows, and strings of lights.
Butler advised that families get their chimneys inspected and cleaned before starting a fire, and to use dry, seasoned wood only. Another tip is to purchase a receptacle for ashes.
“When the fire goes out, sweep up the ashes and place them in a metal bucket with a lid and put the bucket outside,” said Butler. “There may still be embers that can pick back up and start a fire after you’ve gone to bed.”
The most important thing a homeowner can do, Butler said, is to make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are installed and working. Fires today happen quickly, doubling in size every 30 seconds.
“The SFD will come and install your detectors or check them for you. It’s the best thing to have to save a life,” said Butler. “It’s better for us to prevent a fire than to fight a fire.”
Protect against illness
The Plainville-Southington Regional Health District offers several tips to residents to avoid falling ill during the winter.
Each year in the U.S., an average of 5 to 20% of the population gets the flu, according to the health district. Officials recommend getting the flu shot annually, as the “best protection against the flu.”
Always wash hands with soap and water, and avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid close contact with sick people. Always cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Practice good health habits—get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy food. Take precautions when going outdoors in the cold temperatures.
“When the snow falls, people need to get out either for work, school or recreation. Snow shoveling is an activity that many cannot or will not avoid,” said officials. “Shoveling is a strenuous exercise, and with extreme cold weather, it can increase blood pressure, accelerate the heart rate and create internal body conditions that restrict blood flow to the heart.”
As many as 1,200 heart-related deaths occur yearly during and after major snowstorms, said health district officials. To minimize dangers, dress warmly when going outside. Wear layers so some can be removed to avoid overheating. Take breaks, and pay attention to the body’s signals. Shovel with a smaller shovel to avoid overexerting muscles.
Officials also advise to be aware of hypothermia and frostbite dangers. But, the outdoor dangers are not the only threats to health that exist.
“My big thing is, we all know we need to bundle up in the winter when we go outdoors, but there are dangers within the home as well,” said health district director Shane Lockwood. “Carbon monoxide is the silent killer. We want everyone to make sure their CO detectors are working properly.”
The Southington Police Department offered several tips for driving in the snow—first off, stay home. Only go out if necessary.
If traveling is unavoidable, accelerate and decelerate slowly. Do not use cruise control. Police advise to increase following distance between cars, and “know your breaks.”
“Whether you have antilock brakes or not, keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal,” said officials.
Police also advise to take extra precautions when going up hills.
“Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads will just make your wheels spin. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach a hill and let that carry you to the top,” said officials. “Don’t stop when going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road.”
The local AAA in Southington also had tips to help residents prepare for traveling during the winter.
“We encourage motorists to get their vehicles winter-ready,” said manager of public and government affairs Amy Paramenter. She said having a strong car battery is a priority during the winter. “Most batteries last three to five years and it’s important to get them checked. It takes more energy to start up in the cold.”
Having adequately inflated tires is important, as well. Always make sure the vehicle has enough fluids, and that wipers and headlights are working properly. In addition, Paramenter advised travelers keep an emergency kit in their vehicles at all times.
“Most of our breakdown callers didn’t expect to break down. A minor breakdown can turn into a major problem if you’re not properly dressed or prepared,” said Paramenter. “Always keep a kit with extra blankets, a coat, gloves, a flashlight, batteries, a de-icer, a snow brush, some kitty litter to put on the ground for traction, and a bright orange triangle so other drivers can see you.”
AAA will check motorists’ batteries, as well as provide bumper-to-bumper checks, completely free. This service is offered to all drivers, not just AAA members.
“We are busy and getting busier every day servicing both members and non- members alike as the colder weather rolls in,” said manager of the Southington AAA Car Care Eileen Chesney. “While AAA is always happy to service those in need, we’d certainly prefer to help out before they’re stuck on the side of the road so winter car care is key.”
As online shopping becomes more popular, doorstep theft continues to be an issue. In addition, once the gift has been opened and the box is sent to the roadside with the trash and recycling bin, that box can become an advertisement to others of what fancy new gifts are within the home.
To prevent package thefts, Southington police offered several tips.
Have packages delivered to a workplace, if permitted, or to a friend or family member who will be home at the time of delivery. Another option is to use the ship-to-store option that many businesses offer.
Request a signature at delivery. If no one can be home at the time of delivery, invest in doorbell or home cameras. Provide delivery instructions for a less conspicuous spot than the front porch, such as behind a fence, or behind the house.
Many packages can also be insured for protection.
Once the gift has been opened and the box is ready to be discarded, break the box down and make sure it is tucked into the recycling bin so that passersby cannot see it.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.