We are thankful no one was hurt in the fire that damaged the home of Hastings’ longtime children’s librarian Kathy Schultz and her husband, Dale.

It’s fortunate the couple was home Dec. 20 to hear the sounds of the fire starting in a bedroom of their home on Sheridan Drive. We hate to think what would have happened had the fire started while they were away, or at night while they were sleeping.

“The most important things in life are not things. We keep telling ourselves that we’re very fortunate and very lucky, because we’re both here,” Kathy said.

Firefighters were able to quickly contain the fire, although sadly the couple lost a family pet, and their home sustained smoke and water damage just five days before Christmas.

We are thankful the Schultzes are willing to share their story with not only their friends, but the Tribland community by way of the newspaper. They very well might keep another house fire from starting the way this one did.

Firefighters say the cause of the blaze was old household batteries — some AAs and 9 volts being stored in a bag.

Batteries create heat as they break down; in this case, because multiple batteries were contained in a bag, that heat started a fire.

We’re guessing this is a common practice in households across Nebraska. Several employees in the Tribune newsroom admitted to the same practice at their homes and at the Tribune itself, never realizing the risk they were taking

Folks who are keeping old batteries around probably do so because they’re not sure what to do with them.

Is it safe to throw them in the trash? The answer to that is “yes.” Common household batteries have not contained mercury since 1994 and can be safely thrown away.

Jack Newlun, superintendent of the city’s Solid Waste Landfill/Wood Waste Facility, said that used non-rechargeable, household batteries are safe to discard in the trash, so there is no need to stockpile them. Get rid of them as soon as they are dead, Newlun said.

Make sure to read the package information to find out if a battery is labeled for recycling, he said.

Meanwhile, new batteries should be kept in their original packaging, not tossed loosely into a spare drawer or cabinet or thrown into a container with other loose batteries, according to the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America. If batteries must be stored loose, place a piece of electrical tape over the terminals until you are ready to use them.

“This simple step can save your home and save the lives of those around you by preventing a fire in an unexpected location like a garbage bag or junk drawer,” the organization says on its website.

Although most general purpose batteries (AAA, AA, C, D, 9V) no longer contain heavy metals and can be legally thrown in the trash (except in California), there are separate rules for car batteries, watch batteries and some rechargeable batteries.

This is an important message that needs to be passed around just like Dale and Kathy Schultz are doing. They learned the hard way and they don’t want anyone else to go through what have gone through.

“We’ve been telling everybody what the cause was to educate them on the danger and I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone,” Kathy said.

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