Frightful drivers need to be delightful in bad weather

Posted: Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The first heavy frost of the year hit Juneau on Tuesday morning and drivers should be wary and patient when taking on the changing climate, according to the Juneau Police Department.

Juneau Empire File
Juneau Empire File

When winter weather hits, drivers become anxious behind the wheel and the snow season is like driving in another world, said JPD Sgt. Paul Hatch.

"My main thing is lights," Hatch said. "Make sure your brake lights, head lights, emergency lights and fog lights all work and are visible. Take the time to check them before driving and clear snow from your lights if need be. Drivers are cautioned to drive more slowly and leave home earlier to get to work or destinations."

According to Hatch, cars don't start, steer or stop as they normally do in warm weather, and roads become treacherous when covered in snow or ice and slush can be even more slippery than ice.

"Drive the speed prudent for the conditions," Hatch said. "Be especially wary approaching corners and intersections. Snow and slush reduce vehicle's reaction times so leave plenty of room between your front bumper and the bumper of the vehicle in front of you and allow more stopping time and distance for lights and signs."

Hatch advised getting good quality traction tires or studs. Studded tires are allowed until April 15.

Drivers and passengers should wear seatbelts and limit distractions while driving, he said. Hatch also suggests carrying a flashlight or flares, a blanket, shovel, towrope and other emergency supplies.

"A cell phone is a good one," Hatch said. "Although we don't have that many back roads as other areas in the state, there is always the possibility of an impromptu stranding."

According to a press release from the state, there have been at least eight driving fatalities due to weather conditions this November.

Juneau residents are also encouraged to be wary indoors. As temperatures plunge outside, homeowners tend to respond by keeping their confines warm and toasty.

According to a state of Alaska Public Information Office press release, several recent fire incidents have Alaska fire and law enforcement officials concerned. According to the release, 71 percent of fire fatalities within the last two years occurred in homes that did not have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

"It's relatively cheap insurance really," Capital City Fire and Rescue Fire Marshall Daniel Jager said. "We do have a relatively limited supply of smoke alarms if people can't afford them. It baffles us in the fire department that with the number of fire alarms that are purchased and given out by departments around the state, roughly every home should have five of them by now, yet we are still showing up at house fires in which smoke alarms hadn't been operational. Most of those who end up dying in fires had smoke alarms that didn't work. Smoke alarms should be checked monthly."

Jager said carbon monoxide detectors are required by state law for any home that has a fuel burning appliance, propane kitchen stove, any heating fuel type boiler, wood stove or an attached garage to the home, and if it is a multilevel home one is required on each level.

"It's the silent killer," Jager said. "You can't see it, smell it or taste it. It is a problem in the winter time because you have all these different heating sources building up in the home."

Jager said prolonged exposure signs that carbon monoxide is present include severe headaches and nausea.

Furnaces are another big issue, he said. After getting less usage in the summer, furnaces and boilers should be checked by qualified technicians before winter workloads as a safety issue. A check will also save on home heating costs.

Jager said electric heaters should not be placed too close to beds, furniture or curtains, and should not be plugged in and running for more than an hour.

"Just like candles," Jager said. "Be in the room you are going to use them and put them out when you leave. You may get busy doing other stuff and before you know it something could happen."

Jager said chimney fires are another big CCFR winter response call. "Anyone can stop by the fire station and we will loan out a chimney cleaner for free," Jager said. "Typically that is the type of call we get, chimney fires or boiler malfunctions."

Another important issue is holiday lighting. Jager said staples should not be used to hang festive lights as they can crush the wire and generate resistance in the charge. Multiple connecting strings of lights, either inside or out, should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.

"And it is fine if you want to cut down your own Christmas tree," Jager said. "But you need a tree stand that you put water in or else it will dry out and can potentially be a Roman torch that, if ignited, will burn fast and hot. Water should be added every couple days."

Jager also asked that home addresses, on mailboxes or house side or street, be very big and visible and free of snow.

"The bigger the better," Jager said. "And contrasting colors from the house, something that stands out if we do have to make an emergency visit."

All emergency calls should go to 911. The non-emergency CCFR number is 586-5322 and the non-emergency JPD number is 586-0600.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@

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