Kerosene Heaters: A primer for disaster zones

In a city where he mayor feels he has the time to regulate the size of soda servings, talking about kerosene heaters to keep people from freezing to death is probably some kind of crime.

Throwing caution to the wind and taking refuge in the First Amendment, I’m going to take a stab at it.

First, kerosene heaters like chainsaws, motor vehicles and – gasp! – firearms are dangerous when operated incorrectly. Used without following safety rules can cause injury and even death. That’s a fact.

It’s also a fact that in some countries, Japan for example, they are the primary source of indoor heat and just like not everyone who owns a chainsaw cuts off his own foot and not everyone who drives a car drives off a cliff, kerosene heater accidents are rare and preventible.

The alternative for people entering Day 24 of the no-end-in-sight power (and heat) outage is serious discomfort, illness, and in some cases death when the temperature starts slipping and staying below 40 degrees.

So let’s pull up our socks and learn about these things.

The hazards and their preventions

Here are the dangers:

1. Burns

Danger: Kerosene heaters burn hot and if you’re not careful you or your kids and pets can burn themselves on them.

The solution: Know where you can touch them and where you can’t. Teach the kids. The pets too.

Keep the heater out of the way and out of the flow of traffic in your home (rearrange your dwelling around the heater if you have to.) Make sure the heater is on a level surface and if you can find something non-flamable to put it on all the better.

2. Explosions and fires

Danger: Everything that goes into your heater MUST be squeaky clean kerosene – and kerosene ONLY from a known source. If not, it could cause an explosion.

Solution: Be 1000% certain as to the source of the fuel you are pouring into your heater and NEVER transport kerosene in a container that might have ever – even just once – contained gasoline.

If this sounds impossibly scary, just remember that you’ve driven years without ever putting diesel fuel in your gas tank (hopefully – you would have known if you ever made this mistake.) Just use the same level of care with the fuel that goes into your kerosene heater.

3. Caron monoxide poisoning

Danger: Caron monoxide poisoning. This is real and it can make you ill. It can even kill you.

Solution: Keep in mind a gas heater, stove and even dryer can also give you carbon monoxide poisoning so you’re facing this risk already.

Here are some guidelines to keep you safe with a kerosene heater:

a. Make sure you burn clean, uncontaminated fuel (see Rule #2)
b. Never leave a kerosene heater unattended, especially when sleeping. (Yeah, someone has to get up first, face the freeze, and turn the thing on. Your great-grandparents managed this. It won’t kill you.)
c. Leave the window a crack open while the kerosene heater is on to let fresh air in the room
d. Keep your heater in good condition

4. The fuel, like gasoline, is toxic and requires careful handling

It’s best not to store kerosene in your home. If you have access to a garage or basement, store in there.

It’s best to fill the heater outside of your home. Easier said than done sometimes, but spilled kerosene in your house is a minor disaster. Spilled kerosene outdoors not so much.

OK, that’s it for now.

Common sense is still legal, even in Bloomberg’s New York

The point is if the choice is between freezing and having a kerosene heater, using a kerosene heater safely in an emergency is not the most difficult thing in the world. Millions of Japanese manage to do it without burning down the island or killing themselves.

However, keep in mind that using a kerosene heater safely requires a level of vigilance like that required by operating a a chainsaw or motor vehicle. Get some instruction. Read – really read – the user manual and follow the safety rules as if your health and life depend on it because it does.

However, at the end of the day, if the cold becomes a definite threat to your health and the health of those you are charged with protecting and you have the opportunity to use a kerosene heater, don’t let vague, unfounded fears and the Nanny State-induced paranoia keep you shivering in the dark.

– Ken McCarthy

A short list of Sandy relief groups we endorse: http://www.HelpAfterSandy.org

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