How to deal with arctic chill

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Baby, it's cold outside -- brutally, bone-chillingly, life-threateningly cold.

But it's only temporary. "High" temperatures are expected to more than triple by Wednesday, skyrocketing from bitter to bearable. Until then, emergency officials warn residents to be prepared and cautious.

"We don't want to raise the level to panicking, but we want a call to action for citizens to be prepared," said Alvin Henderson, chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services. "Common sense are probably the two words that mean the most at this time."

People should have extra food, clothing and medications so they don't have to venture outdoors unless absolutely necessary, he said. If they do so, they should dress in layers and limit exposure. They should check on neighbors and elderly people. To avoid frozen pipes, they should allow faucets to drip.

Mr. Henderson said one advantage has been the gradual lead-up to the deep freeze, which allowed emergency officials to get the word out to prepare and gave people the time to do so.

Here are tips from Mr. Henderson to get through the cold weather emergency:

• Make certain you have an emergency kit that includes enough food, water, medicine and other supplies to last at least 72 hours. Basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment and telephones may be affected, so your emergency kit should contain items to help you manage during such outages. If you have a secondary source of heat, make sure you have sufficient heating fuel and also that you have adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.

• Stay indoors as much as possible. If you must go outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves. Wear a hat because you can lose as much as 50 percent of your body's heat through your head. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.

• Keep fire extinguishers on hand and make sure those in the household know how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk as more people turn to alternate heating sources. The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.

• Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, garage, basement, crawl space or partially enclosed area. At no time should a cooking stove or oven be used for heat.

• If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly outdoors or by an open window or door. Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive. Be aware that the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

• To keep pipes from freezing, allow faucets to drip a little.

• Bring pets or companion animals inside.

• If you are outdoors, watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia, the dangerous and sometimes fatal lowering of body temperature. Frostbite includes loss of feeling and white or pale appearance of the extremities, including fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.

• Make sure senior citizens have a list of emergency telephone numbers that includes neighbors and family members who can help, if needed.

Michael A. Fuoco: or 412-263-1968.

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