Tips to stay safe during Montana's winter weather

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MRFD McDermott
Cold Weather Fire
Posted at 8:54 PM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 10:19:30-05

MISSOULA — Montanans are flocking to the warmth of their homes as the temperatures continue to plummet.

While indoors seems like the safest place to be during a cold spell, the freezing temperatures bring the potential for disasters like house fires and plumbing problems.

Dodd McDermott with the Missoula Rural Fire District (MRFD) told MTN News that there’s one mistake his department sees year after year.

“The biggest issue we see happens when people use alternative means to heat their homes,” said McDermott. “People will use a range or oven, which is never a good idea. Anything that uses a form of combustion shouldn't be used inside unless it's been approved as far as a wood stove or a pellet stove or fireplace.”

MRFD McDermott
Dodd McDermott with the Missoula Rural Fire District.

McDermott also notes the seriousness of frozen pipes. Unless you have a UL-approved method to thaw the pipes, he recommends contacting a professional.

“There are a lot of things you shouldn't do yourself, and you should actually look to a professional,” said McDermott.

When professionals like those with MRFD arrive on the scene do your best to ensure they can arrive.

“You want to make sure that your windows and doors that you might use for egress in case of emergency are operable at all times, they're not frozen shut," McDermott advised.

Cold Weather Fire
Home fires can be sparked by people who are improperly trying to thaw frozen pipes.

The fire department isn’t the only entity working around the clock in extreme cold. “It’s always frantic and panic,” said plumber Rick Bohlman.

Working for his nearly 40-year-old family-owned plumbing and heating company — Fred’s Plumbing and Heating — Bohlman has seen every do and don’t when it comes to Montana winters.

His biggest advice is to know your house, "the biggest recommendation for me is people learning and knowing where their water main shut off is."

Knowing the knobs can save you from flooding after a pipe bursts. And to avoid the problem in the first place, Bohlman advises to keep the heat flowing throughout your home.

Frozen pipes can lead to unforeseen issues in the cold weather.

“If it's really really cold, you might want to leave the doors on your cabinets open under your sink because it's amazing how even insulation doesn't matter if there's no heat getting to it,” said Bohlman.

He also recommends leak breakers with water sensors or thermostatically controlled switches, both of which will stop problems before they escalate.

Additional cold weather safety tips can be found by visiting