This is the second of a three-part series titled Prevention, where we will discuss preventing fires at home during the holidays. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ranks fire as the second most common cause of in-home accident fatalities. Fires in homes are attributed to approximately 4,000 deaths annually, over 500,000 fires are responded to by fire departments, and yearly property damages exceed $4 billion. The Denver Fire Department considers the year-end holiday period one that usually has a notable rise in the number of house fires. They wish to remind residents to be extremely careful when lighting candles, to inspect electrical cords and to be sure children know ways to get help if a fire occurs.
Fires involving Christmas trees are not common, yet they may be severe when they do occur. One of every 31 reported Christmas tree fires involves a fatality. Even if they are not the initial source of the blaze, trees can certainly accelerate the progression of a fire. When choosing a tree, select one that is fresh; if too many needles fall off when shaken or brushed, the tree may be too dry. Place the tree in a durable stand with adequate water to keep it moist and more fire-resistant. There are also preservative products available that can be added to the water. Avoid positioning it close to any sources of heat. Remember to shut off the lights when sleeping or before leaving.
Stovetop cooking should always be monitored, and children should not be in the area. Don't leave items cooking on the stove when leaving the home. Check the electrical cords of any appliances that you use for signs of wear, including mixers, hot plates, and food processors. If necessary to use a utility lighter or matches, always place them well beyond the reach of children after usage.
With it getting cold outside during the holidays, you may begin to use space heaters. The National Fire Protection Association data shows that over 60,000 fires have been attributed to these. Be sure the model is cleaned and has either a U.L. or F.M. rating. Never leave them running when not at home.
Always have your fireplace and chimney professionally cleaned and inspected annually. Do not use flammable liquids to get a fire started or put trash or other miscellaneous materials into the fire. Keep a tightly grooved screen in place when in use, as sparks or small burning ashes may escape. Remind children not to play in the area.
Over 60% of fatalities occur from fires at homes where smoke detectors (alarms) are not present or functional. Smoke detectors are critical in alerting you before a fire gets too far “out of control”. A unit should be placed in the basement, bedrooms, hallways and entry areas of the home. Place them in the higher area of the room because smoke naturally rises upward. Those that are battery powered should have the batteries replaced at least once a year. Generally, when a smoke alarm makes a “chirping” sound, it is an indication that the battery is low. Periodically use the test button on the units, if equipped. Even hard-wired alarms should be replaced at least every 10 years.
Have your home's electrical system inspected by a professional every few years to be certain it meets current standards. Examples include potentially outdated panels or wiring, or aspects of the system that are potentially a fire hazard. Avoid overloading an outlet with too many devices. Use extension cords sparingly and do not extend multiple cords connected together to span longer distances.
Keep in mind that there are five different types of fire extinguishers depending on the kind of fire. Most units for use in homes and businesses are multipurpose. It is important that all members of the household who are old enough to properly handle a unit understand how it operates. Often the term PASS is used as a reminder:
- Pull out the pin
- Aim toward the base (lower part) of the fire
- Squeeze the release lever carefully
- Sweep. Use a “sweeping” (side-to-side) motion for spraying.
If you follow this guide and use basic common sense, hopefully, your festivities at home will be both safe and enjoyable!