HELENA – After two large structure fires in recent weeks, the Helena Fire Department is advising residents on steps they can take to help them stay safe.
HFD leaders say it appears both recent apartment fires – in a building on Broadway Dec. 26 and in a building on Raymond Street Jan. 4 – were accidental, and linked to heating appliances.
Fire Marshal Lou Antonick said the number of structure fires always goes up in the winter. He said it’s important to have a professional inspect your heating system every year, from the furnace or stove itself to the chimneys.
“I can’t stress enough about cleaning those and making sure that they’re operating the way that they’re supposed to operate,” he said.
People should also make sure to clear out a three-foot area around a furnace or other heating appliance.
“People don’t understand,” Antonick said. “They have blankets or furniture or bedding or something else next to that furnace and they leave it there. It’s running all the time, and then that’s when we see accidents happen.”
As always, HFD recommends having smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home, and in every sleeping area.
“We’re still seeing smoke detectors – not enough of them, or disabled, or none at all,” said Antonick.
If one of those alarms goes off, if you smell smoke, or if people in the home feel sick, Antonick said you shouldn’t hesitate to call 911. He said the fire department has a much better chance of getting a fire under control if they find out about it early.
“What I tell people is, ‘Go with your gut instinct,’” he said. “If something’s wrong, or they feel something’s wrong and it’s an emergency to them, call and have us come out and check it out and find out what’s going on.”
Antonick said it’s important for everyone to develop an escape plan, so they know what to do if a fire breaks out. He said even closing a door before you go to bed can improve your safety, by slowing the spread of fire and smoke through a home.
He also recommends people consider getting renters’ insurance, to protect themselves if their apartment or rented home is lost to a fire.
“It’s heartbreaking, because we try to do everything we can to save as much as we can, and then people have lost their furniture, their clothing and everything,” he said. “I think that there’s an expectation that the owner of the property’s insurance is going to cover all that, and that simply may not be the case at all.”
If you have questions about fire prevention, you can contact the Helena Fire Department at (406) 447-8472.