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25,000 House Fires Each Year are Caused by Space Heaters

Loyola Expert Offers Tips to Prevent These Home Fires

MAYWOOD, Ill. - The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires and more than 300 deaths are caused each year by space heaters. More than 6,000 Americans every year go to the emergency room for burn injuries caused by room heaters.

Winter is not over and many more cold days are expected. The Burn Center at Loyola University Medical Center is warning the public about the dangers of space heaters used by so many to keep warm.

"Every year we receive patients who are victims of house fires caused by space heaters," said Dr. Richard Gamelli, director of the Burn and Shock Trauma Institute at Loyola University Medical Center. The Loyola Burn Center is one of the busiest in the Midwest, treating nearly 700 patients annually in the hospital, and another 3,500 patients each year in its clinic.

"So many of these injuries are preventable if simple precautions are taken," said Gamelli, who is senior vice president and provost of the Health Sciences Division of Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine. About 40 percent of Loyola’s burn cases are children, mostly age 2 and younger.

Some key tips from Loyola and the Department of Energy for space heater safety include:

General Portable Heater Safety Tips

  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture or other combustible material, such as curtains and bedding. Don't place heaters on carpets or rugs.
  • Locate space heaters on a hard, level surface where a child or family pet cannot brush up against them.
  • Never leave a space heater on when an adult is not present in the room.
  • Never keep flammable liquids near a space heater.
  • Mobile homes should use only vented fuel-fired or electric heaters.

Electric Space Heaters

  • The safest space heaters for the home, plug electric space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Use a heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger if an extension cord is needed.
  • Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, to shut off the heating element if the unit topples over.

Combustion Space Heaters

  • Use unvented combustion heaters only outside your home because they can introduce harmful products such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into your breathing area.
  • Vented units that are sealed combustion heaters are safer to operate than others because they are less likely to backdraft and harm indoor air quality. They operate more efficiently because they do not draw in the heated air from the room.
  • Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for fueling and use only the approved fuel.
  • Never fill a heater that is hot.
  • Never overfill a heater. Allow room for fuel expansion.
  • Store fuel outdoors.
  • Have vented space heaters professionally inspected each year. If the heater is not vented properly, blocked, rusted or corroded, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) may cause illness or even death.
  • Do not go to sleep with a fuel-fired heater on as carbon monoxide levels could rise and be fatal.
  • Make sure there is a guard around the heating element or flame area.

The Loyola Burn Center staff comprises more than 70 specially trained medical professionals and provides comprehensive care for adults and children with thermal injuries, electrical burns, chemical injuries, frostbite, toxic epidermal necrolysis, inhalation injuries and complex soft-tissue infections. A multidisciplinary team with vast experience in resuscitation, pulmonary support, wound management, nutritional support and rehabilitation provide care in the Burn Center. The Loyola Burn Center was awarded verification by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the American Burn Association (ABA). This recognition is only granted to those programs that have met and exceeded the ACS and ABA standards and review.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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