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ST. LOUIS - Winter doesn't officially start for more than a week. But tell that to the thousands of people who've had trouble starting their cars in the cold, or the people with frozen pipes in their homes.

According to AAA of Missouri, Monday was their busiest day of the cold weather season. More than 800 members called for help getting their cars started. That's double the call volume of a typical winter-like day. Extra crews have been scheduled this week to meet the high-call demand.

With temperatures expected to plunge into the single digits overnight, we've put together some tips to protect your health, home and car.

KEEP YOUR CAR RUNNING

Here is a checklist from AAA for keeping your car running in cold temperatures.

Phil Linck, a service specialist with AAA, told us:

- Make sure your battery is in good condition, check the cables for corrosion, and make sure they're tight.

- Check your antifreeze quality and level. You should use a 50-50 mix of fluid and water.

- Check the quality and level of your windshield washer solvent, and check the wiper blades.

- Tire pressure: with decline in temperatures, tires will lose air pressure and may trigger monitor lights on your dashboard.

- Park in garage or under cover if possible.

- Consider taking your car to a service professional for winterizing.

PROTECT YOUR PLUMBING

There are several steps you can take to protect the pipes in your home from freezing.

We spoke with Marty McClimens, a plumbing instructor and master plumber with Plumber and Pipefitters Local 562.

Here's his checklist:

- Disconnect any hoses connected to any outside hose bins.

- If you have a fixture in your home that's on an exterior wall that has a history of freezing, let that faucet drip overnight.

- Consider installing, or hiring a plumber to install, heat trace tape. This device looks like a tape, is wrapped around pipes, and plugs into the wall to prevent pipes from freezing.

- Expect to get less hot water out of your water heater. This is because the water entering the heater is so cold, it takes the heater longer to heat it.

- If a pipe in your home freezes, shut the water off to that pipe. If you can't isolate the fixture, shut off the main water valve to the house and call a plumber. Hairdryers are not effective for thawing frozen pipes, but heat trace tape can sometimes work.

Consider "exercising" the main water valve to your house by turning it on and off twice a year. That will prevent it from being difficult to turn when you do have to use it.

Make sure any plumber you hire is licensed and qualified to do work. They are all required to carry their credentials with them at all times, and show them to you when you ask.

FIRE SAFETY TIPS

The St. Louis Fire Department reminds everyone:

- Be mindful when using space heaters regardless of their fuel and power source.

- Alternative heating sources are a major concern and pose a risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

- Give space heaters space. Don't place them near furniture or draperies.

- Check extension cords for cracks and make sure they're not pinched behind furniture, under rugs or stretched.

- Make sure there is a working smoke detector on every floor.

- Develop and practice a home fire escape plan with two exits from every room (if possible) establishing a meeting place in a safe location so all family members can be accounted for.

ADDITIONAL FIRE SAFETY TIPS

*All heating appliances-including furnaces and water heaters should be checked and serviced annually by a reliable professional.

*Ensure that the heating appliance is not in close proximity with any flammable materials.

*Ensure there are WORKING Smoke Alarms on every level of the home! If not and a City Resident; call 314-533-3406 (M-F 8-4) for FREE Smoke Alarms which will be installed by St. Louis City Firefighters!

*Be mindful of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and exit the home immediately if you suspect the presence of carbon monoxide; and call 911 from a safe location.

*If utilizing a space heater that requires liquid fuel such as kerosene, allow the heater time to cool down before refueling it. Adding fuel to a hot heater can create ignitable fumes. Only use the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer.

STAY HEALTHY IN THE COLD

Just as people and pets can get sick in the heat, the same thing can happen in cold temperatures.

The St. Louis Fire Department has tips on what to watch for.

Signs and symptoms of overexposure to the cold: (Seek Immediate Emergency Medical Assistance)

*Uncontrolled shivering

*Slurred Speech

*Clumsy Movements

*Fatigue

*Confused Behavior

We encourage all to seek and remained sheltered, if you must venture out into the elements dress appropriately (to include layering.) If at all possible use a "buddy system", it's what St. Louis Firefighters always use when entering hazardous conditions. Warming centers are available through the United Way by dialing 2-1-1.

PROTECTING PETS DURING COLD WEATHER

(According to the City of St. Louis Animal Care and Control Dept./ACC)

*Do not leave your pets outdoors unattended when the temperature gets below freezing (32 degrees F)

*Never leave a pet alone in a car during cold weather.

*Keep your cat Inside. Cats can crawl into a warm car engine for shelter and can be seriously injured or killed when the car is started.

*Wipe off your pet's paws, legs, and stomach after being out in the snow or ice.

*If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness, or breed type (small, or short haired), take them outdoors only long enough to relieve themselves.

AVOID KITCHEN FIRES

Since November in the St. Louis area, local Red Cross disaster volunteers have provided emergency relief to 65 families after a home fire, and have responded to many more. Cooking is the leading cause of house fires, according to Cindy Erickson, Regional CEO of the Red Cross.

Here are the Red Cross fire safety tips:

Test your smoke alarms monthly. Replace the batteries at least once a year. Check food regularly and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer as a reminder that the stove or oven is on. Enforce a "kid-free zone" in the cooking area and make sure children stay at least three feet away from the stove. Keep anything that can catch fire away from the stove, oven or any appliance in the kitchen that generates heat. Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup. Purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen. Contact the local fire department to receive training on the proper use of extinguishers.

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