Service members urged not to use space heaters
Story by Michael Camacho
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Photo courtesy of Joint Base Balad Fire Department
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Multi-National Forces – Iraq and JBB policy prohibits the use of personal space heaters in the workplace or living areas, according to JBB safety personnel.
Service members prone to cold-weather injuries may be authorized to use space heaters with a medical memorandum, said Staff Sgt. Robert Young, a noncommissioned officer in charge of safety with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and an Orlando, Fla., native. When a heater is authorized, it must have a four-foot area of clearance around it, he said.
The climate in Iraq rarely justifies the use of a space heater, and it is far easier to dress appropriately for cold-weather conditions, said Young.
All living quarters and most work places are equipped with a heating and air conditioning unit, said Sgt. Chester Jenkins, a fire inspector at the JBB Fire Department, with the 63rd Ordnance Company, 80th Ordnance Battalion, 90th Sustainment Brigade, 13th SC(E) and a Queensbury, N.Y., native.
The living conditions of deployed service members are a major factor in the risks associated with the use of space heaters, he said. Living quarters and workplaces can be cramped with gear, equipment and personal items, leaving little space for the occupants, let alone a space heater, Jenkins said.
“There’s a very high probability that something will come in contact with that space heater and cause a fire,” he said.
It is critical that even pre-installed units are maintained and function properly, he said.
Jenkins said the use of unauthorized electronics and devices can cause electrical fires and circuit shorts. He said the last reported space heater-related fire was caused by outlets overheating.
“The amount of amperage and current required to operate the space heater is very high,” he said. “The electrical wiring isn’t designed for that type of draw – it just overheats and causes a fire. The electrical system here is not up to American standards. Any time there’s a large demand put on it, it can cause heating problems and fires.”
A containerized housing unit can go up in flames within five minutes, said Jenkins. The fire can then spread to other housing units around it, endangering the lives of service members and civilian contractors in that area, he said.
Jenkins said the fire-safety policies are put in place because of events that have occurred.
He said anyone found using a space heater will receive a violation notice for having a fire hazard, said Jenkins. If the problem goes unchecked and an incident occurs, the violators or their superiors may be held responsible, said Jenkins.
“All our policies here are to keep the population at JBB safe,” he said. “Anything we put out is something that happened in the past, and we have learned from it and put in policy so it never happens again.”
Charred debris is all that remains of a containerized housing unit at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, after a fire destroyed the room. The JBB Fire Department works to identify fire hazards in work and living areas, which often include overloaded power sources. (Courtesy Photo)