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Be safe instead of sorry during the holidays

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More than ice and snow can pose dangers during the glorious goings-on of the holiday season.

Consider the statistics: Fire claims the lives of roughly 800 to 1,000 people each December.

Throughout the year, Ameren companies encourage the safe use of electricity and natural gas. Basic to ensuring electrical safety is watching for and correcting problems with cords and faulty sockets and handling wiring with care. Jerking on wire can break insulation and damage plugs.

Everyone should avoid walking on extension wires, look for and replace faulty or loose wall sockets and avoid placing too many appliances on one outlet or socket.

Here are some other safety tips for electricity:

• Check all holiday lights for broken or cracked sockets. Look for frayed or bare wires, loose connections or damaged plugs. Throw away damaged light sets.

• Don't overload electrical circuits or outlets. For safety's sake, use no more than three standard-size light sets on each outlet.

• Keep lighting wires away from toddlers. Push the wires inward toward the center of the tree and clip them securely onto branches.

Here are some safety tips for natural gas:

• For outdoor lighting, use only lights approved for use outdoors. Check the label from the testing laboratories. Also, use heavy-duty outdoor extension cords with molded plugs and sockets.

• Keep electrical connections off the ground and away from pools of water.

• Use insulated staples, never nails or tacks, to attach extension cords or lights to wood.

• Avoid running outdoor lights or extension cords through door or window openings where they can be damaged.

• Make sure appliances are unplugged when working on them.

• Never leave a residence with your Christmas tree lights on.

• Don't place cords under rugs or carpets where they can be walked upon or where someone can trip over them.

• Use flame-resistant ornaments and decorations on or around a Christmas tree.

• In selecting a tree, make sure real trees are as fresh as possible; look for one with a trunk that is sticky with sap. Needles should bend, not break, and should be hard to pull off the branches. Keep water in the tree-holder to keep the tree from drying.

• Keep your tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources.

• If you select an artificial tree, choose one that has been tested and labeled as fire resistant. Trees with built-in electric systems should have the UL label.

• Never replace a fuse with one that will carry more amps or with a coin.

• With those new gifts, follow common sense. Never use electric appliances in a bathroom when taking a bath. Never immerse electric appliances in water.

• Don't leave irons plugged in while they're unattended.

• Don't operate fans or heaters where small children can touch or fall upon them.

• Don't touch or go near power lines that are down.

• Make sure underwriters' labels are attached to any electrical devices you purchase.

• Keep appliances clean and check them over periodically.

• First of all, natural gas furnace owners should be aware of and take precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning, dubbed "the silent killer.''

• To avoid the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, before igniting the furnace each year, residents or contractors should carefully examine the furnace and its connections, especially the flue. A rusty or loose fitting flue could cause a vent to operate improperly, and improper venting of furnace combustion may result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

If the flue is blocked, the products of furnace combustion — carbon dioxide and water — will remain inside the home, and the carbon dioxide will change to carbon monoxide — a gas deadly in very small quantities: One-fourth of 1 percent of carbon monoxide — 2,500 parts per million — is lethal in a half hour.

Indications that carbon monoxide could be forming include high humidity, steam-up windows, an acrid odor and the furnace flame burning partly yellow instead of a steady blue with a sharp pointed shape.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of influenza, and include dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, irregular heartbeat, ringing in the ears, violent coughing, seeing spots and even unconsciousness. If you experience symptoms, get fresh air immediately. Ventilate your home by opening doors and windows. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Call a qualified contractor to inspect your heating system.

Other dangers that may result from gas usage include gas leakage from damaged pipes.

For prevention, residents should inspect the condition of pipes and hangers and know where and how to turn off the gas themselves, if necessary, in case of an emergency such as a gas leak or fire. They also should know what kind of wrench is needed.

• If your furnace or heating system is equipped with air filters, clean or replace the filters regularly and if you have a fireplace, have the inside and outside of your chimney checked for deterioration or obstructions.

• Never hang items such as wet clothing or mops on the gas pipe. The added weight could pull the pipe down.

• Never use plastic pipe in a do-it-yourself gas installation. If the pipe melts in a fire, a much more serious fire will result.

• Never use the kitchen oven as a heating source. The products of combustion are not likely to escape, and if family members are asleep, they could become victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. Cooking with the oven is safe because the oven cycles on and off when the oven door is closed and people are up and moving around while it is being used.

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