The Pennsylvania Department of Health and State Fire Commissioner are encouraging residents to take seriously the winter weather expected over the next few months.

Hypothermia and frostbite are two dangerous conditions during extreme cold weather. Both can be fatal.

Signs of hypothermia, which is 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. It 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, you are advised 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.

Portable and stationary space heaters are responsible for more than 43 percent of U.S. home heating fires and 85 percent of home heating fire deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

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 (CO) 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.