Chapter 2

Home Heating Emergencies

During the fall, fire departments experience an increase in the number of alarms received for home-heating emergencies. This is because home-heating units that have been inactive for the summer are suddenly being fired up at the onset of cold weather. When these units are properly; maintained, the fire department isn't needed. It's usually when they're not maintained that we get called.

A home-heating emergency cane escalate to a fire if we aren't called in time or if we don't take the appropriate action. Home-heating emergencies can take many forms, so to mitigate them safely; we need a basic knowledge of heating systems.

According to the NFPA, in 1992, home-heating equipment was responsible for 83,400 fires, 489 civilian deaths, and 2,163 civilian injuries. In addition, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 210 home heating-related deaths result each year from nonfire-related emergencies due to carbon monoxide poisoning. When a heating unit isn't functioning properly, the carbon monoxide in exhaust gases is increased and can spill into the home, rather than rising up and out of the flue as intended.

When you respond to a heating-related emergency, you must find out what type of heating unit you're dealing with. You need to know what fuel is burned, whether oil, natural gas, or propane. Thick black, oil-smelling smoke is symptomatic or an oil fire. If the type of fuel isn't immediately obvious, you man be able to find out by asking the homeowner. If the unit is a private home, chances are good that the resident will have some knowledge of the system. Those chances are reduced if the resident is a renter in a multifamily building. It's also useful to know whether the system is a hot-air, hot-water or steam-heating system. Each type of system and fuel has its own dangers. To minimize the risks, we must know the dangers, and how to avoid them, and how to mitigate them.

Chapter two delves into home heating emergencies and fires with an emphesis on oil burner emergencies and fires. The topics covered in this chapter include the hazards of home heating emergencies and firesand suggests tactics to deal with them. The following topics are also covered:

  • Home Heating Fuels
  • How Oil Burners Work
  • Components of an Oil Heating System
  • Common Oil Burner Emergencies
    • Delayed Ignition
    • Hard Starting
    • Afterfire
    • Pulsation
    • White Ghost
  • General Precautions for Oil Burner Emergencies
  • Oil Burner Fires
  • Other Heating System Problems
  • Water Heaters

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Revised: 12/20/03 .