When holidays approach, everyone looks forward to special gatherings and celebrations with friends and loved ones. Homes will be decorated to enhance the atmosphere of the holidays, but it is important to keep in mind that while holiday decorations can be joyful, they can also be dangerous if improperly used, especially for children. Every year thousands of needless injuries and deaths are caused by decorations.
Residential fire during the holiday season are especially tragic. Celebration and joy can quickly turn to sorrow and anguish because basic fire safety guidelines were neglected. A little caution and planning while decorating will help you avoid tragedy during the holiday season. "It can happen to you," so be careful and have a safe and carefree holiday season.
When buying a natural tree, the most important safety factor is freshness. The higher the moisture content the less likely it is to dry out and become a fire hazard. Check for freshness by examining the needles. Bend them between your fingers. They shouldn't break. Tap the tree gently on a firm surface; if many needles fall off, the tree is too dry. Do not rely on the tree color--many are sprayed green. Once you get your tree home, keep it fresh longer by cutting off two inches of the trunk and mounting it in a sturdy water-holding stand with widely spread legs. Locate the tree away from fireplaces, wall furnaces, and other heat sources. Do not block stairs or doorways. Dispose of the tree when needles begin to fall off in large quantities.
Artificial trees should bear the UL label. Never use electric lights on metal trees. To avoid electric shock on metal trees, use colored spotlights securely mounted above or below the tree, never fastened directly on it. Plastic trees should be made of fire resistant material. This does not mean that the tree will not burn, but only that it will not catch fire easily. As with natural trees, keep away from heat sources.
Use only UL approved lighting. Inspect electric lights for broken or cracked sockets and frayed wires, replace if necessary. Do not use indoor lights outdoors or visa-versa. Do not overload extension cords, and do not connect more than three sets of lights to one cord. Outlets should be readily accessible for quick disconnection if necessary. All lights should be securely fastened to the tree. No bulbs should come in contact with needles or branches. Turn off all holiday lights when you retire or leave home.
Outdoor lights should be weatherproof and clearly identified as designed for outdoor use. Remove outdoor lighting as soon as the season is over. Even these lights are not designed to withstand prolonged exposure to the elements.
Candles are a traditional and beautiful part of the season, buy they are still a direct source of fire in your home. Keep candles a safe distance from other things. And remember that a flickering flame is a thing of fascination to little children. Keep candles out of their reach.
- Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens.
- Always use non-flammable holders.
- Keep candles away from other decorations and wrapping paper.
- Place candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over.
Dispose of gift wrappings soon after opening presents. A room full of paper lying around on the floor is just one more holiday hazard. Place trash in an approved container.
One of the best Christmas gifts you can get someone is a smoke detector. A smoke detector is worth so much (possibly a loved one's life), yet is very inexpensive. Over 90 percent of fire deaths occur in residential dwellings between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when occupants are asleep. Smoke detectors alert occupants when a fire is still small and there is still time to escape.
Beware of toxic decorations. Mistletoe and holly berries may be poisonous if more than a few are swallowed. Old tinsel may contain lead. Discard old tinsel if you are not sure of its composition. Fire salts (which produce a multicolored effect when thrown on burning wood) contain heavy metals which may cause serious gastrointestinal problems and vomiting if swallowed. Call 911 if your child ingests any of these holiday plants.
Avoid placing small or breakable ornaments on lower branches where children or pets can reach them and knock them off. Every year many children are treated for cuts from broken ornaments, or from swallowing broken pieces and small parts.
Fireplaces are very popular during the holidays. Before starting a fire, remove all decorations from the area and be sure that the flue is open. Do not burn wrappings or evergreen boughs. These can burn extremely fast, throwing off sparks and burning debris. Safely dispose of wrapping paper with your normal trash collection.