Focus on Safety this Holiday Season

By Tom Kiurski

Editor’s note: Tom Kiurski wrote this as a holiday fire safety story for his local newspaper. You can adapt it into your own holiday safety message to your citizens or use it as you see fit.

With the holiday season fast approaching, it is wise to take a few minutes away from the “decoration duty” to spend some time using your “safety sense.” There is no better gift this holiday season than a safe and healthy gathering of friends and family.

When using lights and electrical decorations, use only those that have been listed and labeled by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories, bearing the familiar label that lets us know it has been tested. Inspect new and used lights for frays and cracks in the cord before plugging them in. If you have many decorative items to plug in, use a labeled power strip with a built-in circuit breaker in the unit. Remember to turn off the lights before leaving the house or going to bed at night. Make sure you are using indoor lights inside the house and outdoor lights as intended. A box of lights I looked at recently stated they were “…safe for use only in indoor or outdoor decorations.” It made me wonder what other way they could be used.

In 1999, Christmas tree fires were responsible for five fire deaths and 60 injuries, and they caused $15.7 million dollars in direct property damage in the United States alone. Live trees should be placed in a sturdy tree stand and should be kept as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water. Once the tree dries out and begins to drop its needles frequently, it needs to be taken down and removed from the home. Buy only artificial trees that are labeled as fire resistant. Any Christmas tree should be placed at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces and heat registers and should never block an exit from the home.

Candle fires marked a 20-year peak in 1999, causing 15,000 home fires that killed more than 100 people, injured 1,500, and caused $278 million in direct property damage in the United States. Home candle fires are more common in winter months, with December having almost twice the average number of fires. Candles should be placed in large candle holders on a sturdy surface that is away from flammable decorations and away from high-traffic areas where they are more likely to be knocked over. In addition, they should only be used in a room where there is a responsible adult present.

The holidays are always associated with plenty of good food, and cooking safety must be kept in mind. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States. Keep cooking equipment clean, and be careful not to set flammable items too close to cooking appliances. Although most people never feel they will be careless enough to put a dish towel on a stove where food is cooking, I’ve responded to many of those situations in my career. Keep children away from cooking areas, and have plenty of oven mitts on hand.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season with your loved ones.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

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