MCFRS News Release

Responding to Emergencies can be Difficult in Frigid Weather

Check Smoke Alarms and Know How to Get Out

Extinguishing cold weather fires presents unique challenges to firefighters.  Not only is fire fighting a physically demanding profession, fighting fires and responding to medical emergencies in cold weather can be even more challenging for many reasons.

Cooking and candle fires, as well as careless smoking annually cause millions of dollars in damage and injure dozens of residents in Montgomery County.  Remember, during the holidays and at other gatherings this time of year there seems to always be an increased activity in the kitchen especially when entertaining guests.  Also be mindful and careful with candles and smoking materials, particularly when guests, pets and small children are present. 

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires. Three in every 10 reported home fires start in the kitchen – more than any other place in the home. One-third (34%) of candle fires occurred after candles were left unattended, abandoned or inadequately controlled; Twenty-six (26%) percent occurred when some form of combustible material was left or came too close to the candle; Six percent (6%) were started by people (usually children) playing with the candle.

Ice, snow and extremely cold temperatures can impede the response to the fire. Slippery roads and hazardous conditions affect emergency apparatus in the same manner as any other vehicle. Additionally, since establishing an effective water supply is crucial to extinguishing a fire, in extreme weather conditions firefighter’s equipment and small tools can be affected by frigid temperatures and may freeze or be more difficult to use.   In some extreme cases fire fighters might need to search for a hydrant or other water source that is not frozen. Once a water supply has been established, firefighting equipment can become covered with ice, hose lines can become difficult to move around and simply walking around an area sprayed with water that turns to ice can become treacherous. 

Firefighters are at increased risk of injury and dehydration during winter operations.  In fire situations, where structures are evacuated because of a fire, the residents are also placed at greater risk due to frigid temperatures.  Additional resources such as busses are often required in order to assist evacuees.

According to data from the U.S. Fire Administration thirty percent of all fires occur during the winter months. In residences, however, more fires occur in the winter (37%) than in the other two-thirds of the year.

Winter residential fires are more damaging and deadly than that of all residential fires. The leading causes of residential fires in the winter are heating, cooking and improperly discarded smoking materials. This contrasts with the all-year causes where cooking is the leading cause followed by heating.  The increase in residential heating related fires in the winter is not surprising. Nearly 40% of residential fire related injuries and 50% of residential fatalities occur between the beginning of November and end of February. 

Considering the numbers of deaths and injuries over the year; nationally, January is the peak month for both measures.  The winter months of January and February are typically some the busiest times of the year for firefighters.  Cooking, home heating systems, heating equipment and associated electrical systems, as well as combustibles too close to a heat source continue to be significant factor in structural fires in Montgomery County.  Many of these fires can be prevented.

The leading causes of all fires are improperly discarded smoking materials, cooking, heating equipment (including those associated with space heaters and fireplaces), arson and electrical (not necessarily in that order).
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States throughout the year.  It is also the leading cause of fire related injuries.  Three in every ten reported home fires start in the kitchen – more than any other place in the home.

However, during the winter months of January and February fires related to heating equipment becomes the number one cause of residential fires, this includes those associated with fireplaces, space heaters and furnaces.

With the exception of the difference in cause of residential fire, winter fires are not particularly different from those fires that occur throughout the year. There are slight variations, however, in the area of fire origin. As would be expected by the increase in heat