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Health and safety tips for extremely cold conditions

If you have been exposed to extreme cold and experience the following symptoms, the Health Department recommends that you call 911 immediately:

• Hypothermia – Abnormally low body temperature from prolonged exposure to cold.

• Frostbite – Causes loss of feeling and color in affected areas of the body, often the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes

• Heart disease – Those with heart conditions are at a greater risk during extreme cold, so be extra aware of your symptoms.

Be aware of dangers for pets

The extreme cold is also dangerous for pets.

Here are recommendations from the SPCA Serving Erie County:

• Make sure outdoor animal shelters are suitable for the inclement weather. Animal welfare officers can rescue pets thanks to New York State’s Shelter Law that went into effect in 2003.

• Keep a tight leash. Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm. Pets can lose their scent on snow and ice. Pets may also panic during a snowstorm and run away.

• Never leave your pet alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold. Your pet could freeze to death.

• Always dry your pet’s wet paws. Thoroughly wipe off your pets’ legs and stomach when they come in and out of the snow or ice. Check their sensitive foot pads, which may be bleeding from snow or ice encrusted in them.

Your pets can also pick up salt and other chemicals on their feet. These chemicals could hurt your pet if it swallows them while licking its feet.

• Check cars for cats. During the winter, stray or neglected cats outdoors sometimes sleep under the hood of the car where it’s warm and comfortable.

• Keep visits outside short. Take your dog outside only for as long as it takes for him to relieve himself. Dogs, particularly small, short-haired breeds like Chihuahuas and terriers, suffer from the cold despite their seemingly warm fur coats.

• Keep them away from antifreeze. It’s poisonous to pets.

• Those who witness a situation that might constitute cruelty and/or violence toward animals in Erie County, including animals left outdoors with inappropriate shelter in yards, are encouraged to call the SPCA Serving Erie County at 875-7360. The after-hours number for animal cruelty or rescue emergencies is 712-0251.

Prevent problems with pipes

Sub-freezing weather can put pipes at risk. Here are some suggestions to prevent that:

• Keep your house temperature at 68 degrees or higher, even if you’re leaving the house for an extended period of time.

• Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow heat from the home to circulate.

• Identify the location of the main water valve and the valve on your water heater. (Learning the location of these valves may come in handy during an emergency.)

• Disconnect all gardening hoses and install covers on all outside faucets.

• Wrap pipes nearest exterior walls and in crawl spaces with pipe insulation or with heating tape. This can prevent freezing, especially for interior pipes that run along outside walls.

• Close all windows near water pipes; cover or close open-air vents. Freezing temperatures combined with wind drafts can cause pipes to freeze more frequently.

• Heat your basement and consider weather-sealing your windows.

• Insulate outside walls and unheated areas of your home.

• If you plan to be away from home for an extended period of time, shut off water supply valves to your washing machine.

Monitor freezing pipe conditions:

• Check your faucets for water flow and pressure before you go to sleep and again when you wake up.

• Check pipes around your water meter, in unheated areas, near exterior walls and in crawl spaces. These tend to be vulnerable to freezing conditions.

• Identify cold air drafts coming in from a flue or chimney chase and caulk gaps that are near pipes.

• Allow a faucet to drip slightly (lukewarm water) in order to minimize freezing.

• The first sign of freezing is reduced water flow from a faucet.

If a pipe freezes:

• Thaw using a good hair dryer – do not use any type of open flame. (Avoid operating a hair dryer around standing water.)

• To thaw a frozen pipe, heat water on the stove, soak towels in the hot water and wrap them around cold sections of the pipes.

• Start thawing pipe nearest to the faucet. Make sure the faucet is turned on so that melted water can drip out.

If a pipe bursts:

• Shut off water at the main valve.

• If the break is in a hot water pipe, the valve on top of the water heater should be closed.

• Call a plumber. Keep an emergency number nearby for quick access.

Source: Allstate Insurance