Tree Burning Demonstration Provides Holiday Safety Lessons

Nassau County Firefighters Museum & Education Center of Garden City joined with other Nassau County volunteer firefighters to conduct a live residential fire of Christmas trees to emphasize the importance of vigilant hydrating of all natural Christmas trees.

The event’s purpose is to educate the public during a holiday season that can be fraught with home fires due to under-watered Christmas trees, whether on display in a house or apartment, or later, when discarded or moved to a spot outside the residence. The exercise demonstrates the unimaginable rapidity of a dry tree fire and emphasizes the urgent need to adequately hydrate trees and to properly dispose of them.

The event took place December 3rd at the Nassau County V.E.E.B. Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage and utilized two residential “burn buildings”. The buildings, “private dwelling structures” are used to train firefighters in the most common type of fire on Long Island: residential.

When decorating homes with trees, electric lights and candles to create a festive atmosphere, the Nassau County Firefighters Museum & Education Center reminds the public to properly use all holiday items, according to instructions, as they can cause fires, injuries and even death.

Another important tip The Francis X. Pendl Nassau County Firefighters Museum wants Long Islanders to keep in mind is that home fires are just as likely, or more likely, to happen after the holidays – as the Christmas tree begins to dry out and presents, wrapping paper and unattended decorations clutter the house.

“The holiday season can indeed be the most wonderful time of the year, as it says in the beloved song, but a fire, even a small one, can ruin the family’s celebrations,” said Museum Chief Safety Instructor John V. Murray. “It is important to avoid using older electric light strands with frayed wiring or broken bulbs, and do not allow your Christmas tree to dry out; it must be kept continually hydrated. We see more fires happen during the holidays, so we are urging folks to follow the basic safety tips, keeping this festive season a safe and happy one.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of over 400 people, injure 1,650 more, and cause more than $990 million in damage each year. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports between 2003-2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 250 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees.

Nassau County Firefighters Museum offers the following safety tips:

When choosing a Christmas tree –

o Check a tree for dryness while at the seller’s lot – shake the trunk above a light-colored surface and watch for falling needles. If too many dry needles fall, choose a fresher tree. A locally-grown tree from New York may be fresher than one from out of state.

o Avoid trees with an artificial-looking green tint on the branches or trunk – these trees may have been spray-painted to improve their appearance. The paint used may be not only combustible, but could be hazardous as well. When in doubt, ask the seller if he or she sells painted trees.

o Have the merchant saw off an inch or two from the trunk of the tree to help keep the tree fresh longer at home; also, if your tree is left outside, placing the trunk in a bucket of water will help keep it fresh.

o When disposing of a tree, DO NOT leave it inside a home or building; DO NOT place it against the exterior of a home or building. In both cases, the tree is likely dried out and thus poses an increasing fire hazard.

When choosing holiday decorations and lighting –

o When possible, choose decorations made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials. Look for these designations on the product’s packaging.

o Purchase lights and electrical decorations stamped with the name or symbol of an independent testing lab – for example, “UL”, or Underwiters’ Laboratories – and ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and maintenance.

o Carefully inspect new and previously used light strands. Look for frayed cables and replace any damaged or missing bulbs before plugging lights in.

o Do not overload extension cords, “power strips” and electrical outlets.

o When using power cords to illuminate outdoor displays, ensure that they are designated for EXTERNAL or outdoor use only – NEVER use power cords that are meant for indoor use. (Always check the product’s packaging, which usually indicates outdoor or indoor use.)

o Turn lights off overnight. If possible, use a timer device to turn your lights off automatically. This not only lessens the risk of fire, but saves on your energy bills as well.

If you light holiday candles or candelabras (menorahs, window candles, etc.) –

o Keep lighted candles and candelabras at least one foot away from any combustible materials. DO NOT place candles anywhere near window curtains, furniture, wrapped gifts or anything else that could ignite.

o Place candles and candelabras where they cannot be knocked down or tipped/blown over. If possible, keep the candle inside a weighted holder or one with a wide base.

o Extinguish a candle before it burns to within two inches of its holder.

o NEVER leave a lighted candle unattended – extinguish a candle before leaving the room.

o Discourage the use of candles in bedrooms and other areas where you may fall asleep.

o Store matches and lighters in high places, out of the reach of children, and ideally inside a locked cabinet.

o Consider using battery-powered candles instead; if using electrical, “plug-in” candles follow manufacturers’ instructions.

For more information, visit the National Fire Protection Association website at

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