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FEMA Urges Trailer Occupants to be Cautious Regarding the Use of Heaters in FEMA Trailers As Cold Weather Comes to the Coast

From: FEMA        Filed 10/20/06

BILOXI, Miss. -- With cold weather approaching, federal officials advise Hurricane Katrina survivors residing in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) travel trailers to take precautions with fire safety.

Nearly 35,000 FEMA travel trailers are currently located in South Mississippi.

FEMA urges anyone in a travel trailer to use only the built-in heater. Occupants should not use kerosene heaters, kitchen stoves or ovens, or electric space heaters.

“These trailers are equipped with heaters that are safe when used by occupants as instructed when we turn the trailer over to them,” said Nick Russo, federal coordinating officer for the Mississippi recovery. “Using unapproved devices for heat could lead to serious accident or injury.”

“Residents need to practice safety at all times,” Russo added. “Even those who’ve used these heaters before should re-familiarize themselves with how to use them safely.”

Most of the travel trailers are equipped with propane heaters, which automatically vent to the outdoors. However, using the oven or stove for heat may deplete oxygen in the trailer, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas that causes dizziness, headaches and possibly death. Residents should make sure the carbon monoxide detector is working correctly and that heater vents on the outside of the trailer are not blocked or covered. All FEMA travel trailers that have propane heaters also have carbon monoxide detectors.

Fire Program Specialist Kathy Gerstner of the U.S. Fire Administration, a sister agency of FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security, offers several fire prevention tips for residents of travel trailers:

  • If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t do it;
  • Shut off all appliances before leaving home;
  • Know where the propane shutoff valve is located and how to shut it off;
  • Keep flammable materials away from the stove top;
  • Know where the fire extinguisher is in the unit and learn how to use it;
  • Learn how to use the emergency window opening devices in the trailer;
  • Do not store gasoline or other flammable liquids in or under the trailer;
  • Do not store gasoline-powered vehicles or equipment in the trailer;
  • Never smoke in bed.

Finally, firefighters at every level stress the importance of having a working smoke detector. Batteries should be replaced twice a year, and officials suggest doing so when changing between daylight and standard time.

“We want everyone to be comfortable and safe this winter,” said Russo. “If those in a travel trailer or mobile home feel their health or safety is in danger at any time, they should leave immediately and contact local emergency officials.”

For maintenance or repairs, trailer residents may call the Maintenance/Applicant Support Center at 1-866-877-6075. The center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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