This story by Tracy Fedkoe originally ran on Dec. 17, 2010. We're running it again this year in case you missed it!
With the holidays fast approaching and many things on our minds, it's often too easy to forget simple safety tips that could prevent a fire or accident in the home.
While the holidays are filled with beautiful decorations, warm fires, and plenty of wrapped presents, there is an increased risk of fire during this time. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, December and January have the highest rates of residential fires. The good news is that our communities seem to be a little below the norm.
"We haven't really seen an increase in fires during the holiday season over the past few years," said Bridgeville fire Chief Bill Chilleo, who has been with the department for more than 25 years. "Most fire safety is just common sense."
To maintain the trend of low fire occurrences in the area, here are a few tips recommended by the U.S. Fire Administration to help remind you that it only takes a few extra minutes to prevent fires during the holidays and throughout the year.
- Christmas trees account for 250 fires annually, according to the NFPA. Live Christmas trees can be a huge fire risk if they dry out. If you have a live tree, make sure you water it daily and check the branches to make sure they're still bendable and the needles aren't falling off. According to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a dry Christmas tree can ignite in three seconds and spread the fire to an entire room within 40 seconds.
- When using lights, follow the manufacturer's recommendation on connecting them. When in doubt, don't connect more than three strands of lights on an extension cord. If you notice any signs of wear such as frayed cords, broken sockets or excessive kinking, it's time to replace them. "Lights are a lot safer now than they used to be," said Joe Wissel Jr., the chief for Heidelberg's fire department. Wisssel recommended LED lights for maximum safety. A set of 100 LED lights can be found for about $20 at most department stores.
- In addition to lights, many other holiday decorations are electric, so make sure you don't overload your outlets. Use power strips for one central shut off point so you don't accidentally leave lights on when you go to bed or leave the house.
- If you choose an artificial tree, make sure you get one that's flame retardant and select only non-flammable decorations as well.
- Never put tree branches or wrapping paper in a fireplace because it quickly can result in a very large fire. "It's also a good idea to have your furnace, fireplace and chimney checked once a year," Chilleo said. Before the holidays is the perfect time to do that because both will most likely be getting extended use beginning in December.
- Use extra caution with open flame candles during the holidays. With more guests in your house, make sure candles are placed in proper holders surrounding the flame and away from people, furniture and especially your Christmas tree. Battery-operated artificial candles are now readily available and provide the same holiday glow.
"With all of the holiday spending, everyone is trying to save a couple of dollars. Safety isn't the thing to skimp on," said Chilleo.
Lastly, make sure your family has a fire escape plan and each person knows how to exit the house and where to meet when they do. All it takes is a little extra effort to take the right steps to safety.