Keeping your community Halloween-safe

By Tom Kiurski

The rustle of leaves under your feet, the autumn chill in the air, decorations being put out that look like skeletons and witches and various grimaces on the faces of jack-o’lanterns remind me of my favorite time of year and the celebration of Halloween. While the trick-or-treating that we have become accustomed to didn’t really take off until the 1930’s, many children love to dress up in costume and collect treats on the evening of October 31. The least we, as firefighters, can do is to make sure our citizens are safe while doing it.

Remind the adult groups you speak to that if you are expecting to invite children to their door, they should start by cleaning up their yard so children won’t trip over hoses, branches or slippery leaves. Unused tools should be put away and house lights should be checked, as they will light the way for children to come to their house. If citizens must drive on Halloween, they should use extra caution, especially in neighborhoods where children have their minds on treats more than on watching for cars. House lights should be turned on to welcome children, and children should never be asked into the home.

Candles look nice when controlled, but the risks may be too great. Parents should consider a trip to their local Halloween store to check out the many options for lighting pumpkins. They have small strobe lights and color-changing lights; I even lit up a jack-o’lantern with a glow stick last year and it looked great!

If you are speaking to a group that probably has children who will be trick-or-treating on Halloween, encourage the parents to have the kids try their costumes on well before Halloween so that they can add reflective tape, take up hems and make sure there is plenty of makeup for the big night. Makeup is recommended for the face over masks due to the peripheral visibility limitations of putting a mask on. Costumes should be plainly marked as flame-resistant or flame-retardant, and it shouldn’t drag on the ground. Children should only travel in familiar areas and along an established route with a group of friends. Flashlights, glow sticks and reflective trim are a must, and a cell phone may be useful for children who are old enough to have them. Small children should always be accompanied by an adult, and make sure they have their name and address pinned somewhere onto their clothing in case they do get separated from the group.

Children should eat a meal before they head out for the evening. A full stomach will make children less likely to grab treats until they can get home and have an adult inspect them prior to consumption. Any unwrapped candy or food items should be discarded.

Livonia firefighters had a Halloween safety trading card made up, with safety tips on the back and a fire truck all decked out for Halloween on the front. We had Halloween safety tips printed on bookmarks that we gave out, and our Fire Prevention Week Open House had a Halloween safety table on display. Take an active role in the safety of your community this Halloween…your citizens will be glad you did!

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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