City fire department looks to regulate use of heat to kill bed bugs

December 28, 2015 | By Ned Oliver | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Bedbugs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, drop dead at temperatures of 115 degrees or higher.  Exterminators, aware of this weakness, have been increasingly marketing high heat to abate infestations, using propane or electric heaters to raise indoor temperatures to 135 degrees or above for hours at a time.


Bedbug filled with human blood

Summer Bed Bugs

Mattress with bedbugs

That has the Richmond Fire Department concerned. It has introduced a local ordinance that would require exterminators who use heat to kill bedbugs to register annually with the department.

“What we have seen is plastic items have melted,” said David Creasy, the city’s fire marshal. “We’ve not had a fire, per se, but we certainly have been on the cusp of having something like that occur.”

Fire alarms go off, sprinkler systems can be weakened, and, in worst-case scenarios, fires can start if combustible items aren’t removed prior to treatment, he said.

“I’d say we’ve probably had a half a dozen instances where we have been involved and had varying degrees of issues and concerns,” Creasy said.

Under the new regulation, exterminators would still be able to provide the treatment, but would have to register with the Fire Department for $40 a year.

“We want to work with them to survey the area they’re going to be working and make sure they’re aware of the proper placement of the heating device, and if there are items that could be a problem, that they’re moved,” Creasy said.

“And in some cases, we’d even have to shut down part of a sprinkler system to facilitate a treatment.”

Bryan Vaughan, a training and technical specialist at Loyal Termite and Pest Control Co. in Richmond, said bedbugs are common in the city, which ranks No. 9 in the nation for bed bug infestations, according to an annual list put out by Orkin.

“It’s very, very common,” he said. “We find them all over.”

He said the heat treatment is increasingly popular, and that while Loyal has been offering the service for years, he has noticed more and more companies advertising the service.  But he said a careful inspection of the premises is all it takes to avoid problems.

“We’ve never melted anything or caught anything on fire or anything like that,” he said.


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