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Pa. NG Safety Office: Winter weather requires special measures for Guardsmen, families

Tech. Sgt. Scott Burr, 111th Attack Wing Safety Office, treads on an icy sidewalk for a photo at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pa., Jan. 10, 2017. January is nationally observed as Winter Safety Month. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

Tech. Sgt. Scott Burr, 111th Attack Wing Safety Office, treads on an icy sidewalk for a photo at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pa., Jan. 10, 2017. January is nationally observed as Winter Safety Month. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- “How are you feelin’?”

“Cold, cold, cold!”

January is nationally observed as Winter Safety Month, by the near record low temperatures across the map, it is an appropriate observance. These frigid conditions have many scrambling to find ways to get - and stay - warm.

Whether you’re outside in the elements or indoors warming your toes, it is important to remember some basic rules to keep you and your family safe.

One common method of warming homes and offices is to utilize a space heater. These mini appliances are ideal for heating large and smaller spaces, but there are hazards that can accompany their use. Heat-producing appliances should never be plugged into a surge protector or extension cord. They are unable to handle the high-wattage levels and can easily overheat, possibly starting a fire. On a side note, this applies to other high-wattage appliances, such as microwaves, refrigerators and coffeemakers. It is also important to ensure your space heater has an automatic shutoff that activates in the event the heater tips over.

Winter is a good time to ensure your family has an overall fire and safety plan. A few items involved in the plan consist of having both working carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in place – ensuring they contain functional batteries. When speaking of fires in the home, an easily-operated fire extinguisher that requires minimal training should be available. Know which family members are capable to operate a fire extinguisher in the event one must be used.

Other “Dos” for the home include: dressing warm; checking on infants and the elderly, since it is harder for each to maintain body heat; using battery-powered lanterns instead of candles or kerosene lanterns; securing off unneeded or unoccupied rooms; closing drapes during the night; and drinking plenty of water.

Winter safety doesn’t just affect the home; eventually, we travel out into the elements.

The most obvious safety precaution is being aware of surface condition. This includes everything from sidewalks to roads. According to braininjurymn.org, “Assume that all sidewalks are icy. Some ice is hard to spot…Don't go through an area that hasn't been shoveled or has bad lighting.” The site also states that shivering may throw off balance, which can lead to an increase on falls.

When the need arises to travel during the winter months, make sure you have a winter survival kit in your vehicle. If you already have one, take a moment to check the expiration dates on the items. This kit should include objects like: energy bars and dried fruit, fresh water, a shovel, a blanket, extra clothing, hand warmers and hats. It is also a good idea to tell someone when and where you are traveling in the event you become stranded. This is especially true for long-distance travel, but still applies to trips in the neighborhood.

If you do become stranded, call for help if you can. Tie a colorful cloth to your antennae and wipe snow off your taillights to increase your visibility to passing traffic. If it’s not snowing or windy, putting up your car hood serves to signal that you need help. Also, to help stay warm, bundle up from head to toe with any extra clothing or blankets packed in your emergency kit. Huddle up with others for warmth, if possible, and keep arms and legs moving to help stay warm.

Charge items, like your cell phone, with the vehicle running as to not drain your battery. And remember to only run the engine after clearing the tailpipe of debris and snow. Failing to do so can fill the car with carbon monoxide and lead to severe medical issues and even death.

Make a winter safety checklist, so that you can go through the above tips, adding on others you think of, have read about or are already doing. Each year, as the colors of fall change to the pale of winter, go through the list to ensure you and your family are prepared. Keeping these tips in mind can make for a safer winter for you and your family.