Fire departments throughout Knox County will help residents keep their homes safe from fire and other hazards by offering free home safety surveys and heating system checks. The project was initiated by Atlantic Engine Company No. 2, a nonprofit organization associated with the Camden Fire Department, after the company applied for and received a grant from FEMA’s Fire Prevention & Safety grant program.

A home safety survey is an informal walk through the house with a trained firefighter who affirms safe practices, answers questions, points out potential hazards and suggests improvements, and checks the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the home. If alarms are missing, outdated or improperly installed, the firefighter will install new alarms at no charge. The survey is not an inspection and there are no violations. The firefighter conducting the survey simply assesses the home and makes recommendations to the homeowner.

“We’re offering people this opportunity because our job is to protect the community, and it’s far better to prevent a fire or accident from happening in the first place than to respond after it happens,” said Camden firefighter Ed Geis.

Geis said many people are unaware of common household hazards.

“Sometimes people don’t realize that they have a potentially dangerous situation in their home, like an overloaded extension cord, so it can be helpful to have somebody review the home with them,” Geis said.

Making sure everyone has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, properly installed, is a key goal. When people are killed or injured in home fires, typically smoke alarms are missing or not functioning properly.

“Understanding different types of alarms and where to put them can be confusing for people,” Geis said. “And if an alarm is improperly installed so that it goes off every time you burn the toast, sometimes people get frustrated and yank out the batteries. A better solution that doesn’t jeopardize safety is to make sure the right type of alarms are installed in the right locations, and that’s where we can help.”

Knox County residents can also arrange to have a free inspection and routine maintenance of their home heating system by a licensed service technician. This includes fuel oil, propane or wood burning systems. Heating systems are the leading cause of home fires in Maine, and can also create dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the home if not properly vented.

To schedule a home safety survey or heating system check, visit atlanticengine.org, call Geis at 236-7950 or contact a local fire chief.

Top 10 tips for safe home heating

1. Have a chimney inspected and cleaned annually.

2. Visually check the chimney flue regularly throughout the season and have it cleaned when necessary.

3. Have a furnace or boiler checked by a professional before every heating season.

4. Keep combustibles at least 3 feet from any heat source.

5. Never leave portable heaters unattended.

6. Install a carbon monoxide alarm near bedrooms.

7. Avoid ventless heaters; if they must be used, make sure the room is adequately vented.

8. Dispose of ashes carefully in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid stored outside the home.

9. Change the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms each year and test them to be sure they operate properly.

10. Don’t store flammable liquids indoors or in attached garages.

More heating safety information is available at the Camden Fire Department Web site, town.camden.me.us/fire.