Staying safe and warm as January ‘Beast of Winter’ knocks at the door


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The season’s first winter storm is knocking at the door, but as Western New Yorkers batten down the hatches, utility officials are warning of dangers inside your home.

The winter beast is back, and we are cranking up the furnace, throwing another log on the fire or if the lights go out, firing up a backup generator. These can have lethal consequences, and National Fuel is reminding Western New Yorkers how to keep warm safely.

Taking shelter and turning up the heat in the face of this January storm might keep you warm.. but without the proper precautions can be harmful.

“January is the month where we see the largest amount of carbon monoxide poisonings,” said Karen Merkel, National Fuel Gas.

National Fuel spokesperson Karen Merkel says now is the time to have your furnace and vents thoroughly checked out by an H-VAC professional. In the event of heavy snow, make sure the exhaust vents are clear.

“Because if a vent is blocked, the furnace will either shut off entirely or it will operate inefficiently. If it were to do that, that is when carbon monoxide can build up, and that is definitely not a good thing,” Merkel said.

Merkel also told us, homeowners should know where their gas meters are located, make sure the snow and ice are cleared away, and if possible, mark the meter so it can be easily spotted by a snowplow operator.

“We get a lot of phone calls every winter that meters are damaged by plow service operators that just don’t know that the meter is there, and they clear the driveway and take the meter with that,” Merkel added.

Merkel said, never operate a backup generator in an enclosed space, such as the garage and every home that uses natural gas or another fuel for heating should have a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector.

If you are behind on your heating bills, National Fuel can help in a number of ways including a residential arrearage program.

“We call it HEAP RAS, and a customer can be eligible up to $10,000 to pay off utility bills, and that can be electric and gas,” Merkel said.

You might be surprised at the income guidelines for receiving home energy assistance. This year a family of four can earn nearly $64,000 a year and qualify for the HEAP program.

A family of five can max out at $73,000. For more information, click here.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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