Officials remind about fireplace safety checks

Jan. 24—With temperatures expected to drop over the next few days, it's important to inspect fireplaces for leaks before using them as a heat source.

Bill Lamar, the emergency management manager at the St. Joseph Fire Department, is reminding residents to do a safety check on gas-powered and wood fireplaces to ensure they are free of leaks and other risks.

"Home heating is really important this time of the year, but still, safety should always be at the top of our mind," Lamar said. "If you're using gas fireplaces or any type of gas to heat your house, you need to make sure your flue is clear and not obstructed. It's also very important to make sure that you don't have any leaks in your gas system as well."

To ensure a fireplace isn't leaking, residents should:

Check the fireplace for any foul smells

Listen for hissing or whistling sounds

Check for debris at the fireplace base

Make sure to have safety screens around the fireplace.

According to the fire department, gas leaks are a common cause of house fires, as well as leaving flammable items by heating systems.

"Household items you don't think can catch fire most likely can," Lamar said. "No matter what type of heating source you're using, make sure there's plenty of clearance from random items. We usually say about 3 feet from curtains or anything like furniture that could possibly catch on fire."

The fire department also stressed the importance of carbon monoxide detectors in the home, as carbon monoxide poisoning can be dangerous.

"You can't smell or see when carbon monoxide is flaring up in your home so it's important to be aware," Lamar said. "Small children and the elderly are more at risk of poisoning when coming in contact with this. If you have electric heat or you're using space heaters, make sure you have no extension cords and again, a 3-foot range from anything that may be able to catch on fire."

Residents are being reminded to leave their house immediately if it catches on fire and to call 911.

"If you see any type of fire happening you can't control yourself, get out of the house," Lamar said. "First responders will arrive as quick as we can, but don't go back in to try and fight the fire. As long as your smoke detectors and batteries are up to date, you should be safe."

Jenna Wilson can be reached at