The Department of Health and State Fire Commissioner encouraged residents to take seriously the winter weather expected throughout Pennsylvania over the next few months by prioritizing safety and preparing for extreme conditions.

“We know at this time of the year, we can expect wintry conditions to develop, and these include not just snow but cold temperatures and extremely dangerous wind chills,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “Put staying safe and warm at the very top of your to-do list for this winter season. If you must be outdoors, know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia, and cover all exposed skin.”

Hypothermia and frostbite are two dangerous, potentially fatal, conditions that can occur during extreme cold weather. Signs of hypothermia, an unusual drop in body temperature, include shivering, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color, most often in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes, and can permanently damage your body or lead to amputation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says wet clothing can accelerate a hazardous drop in body temperature. To protect against this and the extreme cold, know how to layer clothing properly.

The CDC says effective layering involves:

  • Inner Layer: This layer goes against your skin and should hold body heat and not absorb moisture. Choose materials made of wool, silk or polypropylene instead of cotton.
  • Insulation Layer: This layer retains your body heat to keep you warm. Fabrics which work best include natural fibers like wool or goose down. Synthetic fleece can also be effective. This is often known as a “soft shell.”
  • Outer Layer: Think of this as your “hard shell.” It protects you from wind, rain and snow. It should preferably be water and wind resistant to reduce the loss of body heat.

Residents with low incomes are also encouraged to see if they qualify for participation in the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program, overseen by the Department of Human Services, helps some families pay their heating bills. For more information and to apply visit the Department of Human Services at

“Staying warm during periods of extreme cold can be challenging for many individuals,” State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego said. “While space heaters are effective at providing supplemental heat, these devices can be hazardous and should be used responsibly.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, portable and stationary space heaters accounted for more than 43 percent of U.S. home heating fires and 85 percent of home heating fire deaths.

The Office of State Fire Commissioner recommends the following home heating safety tips:

  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
  • Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Install wood burning stoves following manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional do the installation. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Install and maintain CO alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Information about hypothermia and frostbite, as well as additional information on how to stay safe during and after a snow storm, can be found on the Department of Health’s website at
  • or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.