At-Home Fire Safety for a Happy Christmas
Christmas is a time of good cheer and celebration. Families come together, decorations sparkle and holiday treats are consumed in staggering quantities. These things in combination are the recipe for a happy Christmas; tragically, they’re also often the recipe for devastating fires. Here are some fire safety tips to help you ensure that the only thing burnt to a crisp this season is Great Aunt Martha’s terribly overdone fruitcake.
Because they don’t get used but once a year, it’s important to inspect lights carefully before hanging them each Christmas. Replace any broken or burnt-out bulbs, and don’t use lights with frayed cords. Don’t hang them next to highly flammable materials like tissue paper and wrappings, and don’t allow children or pets to play with them. Never connect more than two sets at a time, and don’t overload electrical outlets. All lights should conform to the British Standard.
Outdoors, be sure to use lights designed specifically for outside use. Use a residual current device, or RCD, that will switch off the power in case of an electrical fault. Hang lights with plastic hooks instead of metal nails, and don’t put lights where they’re bound to end up sitting in a puddle of water after the next storm. Turn off and unplug all indoor and outdoor lights before leaving the house or going to sleep.
Consider replacing both indoor and outdoor fairy lights with new, cooler burning LED versions that pose a much lower fire risk.
Paper, ribbons, and garlands make the holidays bright. They also act as kindling in the event of a fire. Keep these highly flammable items away from heat sources like candles, heaters and lights. Discard used wrapping in a timely manner; don’t let it collect under the tree. Hang decorations securely, where they won’t fall or blow into an open flame.
To cut down on the flammability of a live Christmas tree, look for a fresh-cut tree. If needles are falling off, if the boughs aren’t springy, and if the trunk isn’t sticky with fresh sap, choose another tree. Keep the tree in a stand full of water, and replenish it often. Don’t place the tree near a heater that will dry it out, and keep it well clear of fireplaces and other open flames. When choosing an artificial tree, be sure to choose one that’s flame retardant.
Candles can add a beautiful glow to your Christmas celebration, but they can be dangerous, too. Be sure to place them on flame-resistant surfaces and keep them in holders that prevent tipping. Don’t leave them burning unattended, and supervise children near them. Never place candles near flammable decorations or greeting cards, and don’t put them too close to the ceiling; the Electrical Safety Council recommends leaving at least one metre between the top of the candle and any other surface. When extinguishing candle flames, use a snuffer instead of blowing on them, which can scatter hot sparks. For an added sense of security, consider replacing traditional candles with modern, flameless ones, especially in households with children and pets.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…but not too close to the fire. Refrain from decorating your fireplace with highly flammable materials, and never leave a burning fire unattended. Take care during parties that guests don’t lean too close or stumble into the fire, and never use the fireplace as a way to burn garbage or Christmas tree boughs.
According to national statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government, cooking appliances were the number one source of ignition in accidental home fires in 2010 and 2011. This means that hosts and hostesses need to take care when preparing holiday meals. Ask guests not to crowd the kitchen while the stove is on, and never drink and cook at the same time. Prepare as much of the holiday meal as possible before guests arrive and start distracting you, and no matter how much fun you’re missing by being in the kitchen, never leave a hot stove unattended to join the party.
If guests will be smoking at your holiday party, have ashtrays conveniently placed throughout your home to encourage them to dispose of cigarettes properly. Be sure smoking materials are completely extinguished, and keep them away from furniture and other flammables. Better yet, designate an outdoor area in which smokers can congregate instead.
If your holiday traditions include the use of fireworks, use caution. Never light a firework in your hand, and don’t throw lit fireworks to land where they may. Keep children and pets away from fireworks, and never go too close to investigate a firework that fails to explode right away; it could still go off at any time.
The best fire safety advice is to always be prepared. Install and check smoke detectors throughout your home, and keep fire extinguishers on hand for emergencies. Know where your circuit breaker or consumer unit is located in case you need to turn off the power, and have an escape plan in place that you can share with holiday visitors. With a little preparation and forethought, you can enjoy a happy and safe Christmas with your loved ones.
Author – Kevin Fitzgibbon