Staying safe during holidays

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Greenville Fire Department is making sure that residents are prepared to prevent fires this holiday season.

Greenville Fire Chief Mike Phillips said as the weather turns cold and the holiday season arrives, there are new fire hazards that residents must be aware of. Christmas lights, fireplaces, candles, heaters and cigarettes are the main culprits in holiday fires.

The cause of most fires he’s seen is from electrical problems.

"People just overload their circuits," he said.

"Years ago most of our winter problems were fireplaces with bad chiminies, but

People have changed their way of heating and that has changed our fire calls a lot for the better."

As for the Christmas trees, Phillips said they usually have at least one tree fire call.

"It's hard to make it through Christmas without one," he said. "People let them get too dry.

They need to make sure they have a stand to keep the tree watered."

Phillips said fires caused by Christmas lights usually occur when lights are left on for too long on a Christmas tree. On top of that, he said the trees are usually depleted of water and dry. This makes them extra susceptible to heat. Keeping the tree watered and turning the lights off before the tree is left alone can save a house from fire. He said there are also flame retardant sprays that can lower the danger of the tree becoming a fire source.

Purchasing electric lights and heaters with the Underwriters Laboratories or UL seal on them is a good idea, Phillips said. Products with the UL seal have been safety tested and the safest for home use.

Phillips said the some of the other safety tips he offers to people are: n

n Keep matches and lighters away from children.

n Always extinguish cigarettes in ashtrays.

n Buy smoke detectors.

n Keep a fire extinguisher ready.

n Always have an escape plan.

Also note, according to the National Firefighters Association, most fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. So having a working smoke detector to wake you up is important.

In the event a fire does occur, the chief said it is not wise to try to be a hero.

"We recommend they get their families and themselves out of the house and that they call us," he said.

"It can spread so fast when a Christmas tree fires off.

Even the placement of the tree is important.

You don't want to block your exit with the tree.

You always want to have a way out in case something went wrong."

A big hazard this time of year as the chief noted are real Christmas trees.

So when you are buying a natural Christmas tree, do a few things first. Test

the tree for freshness by tapping the base of the tree on the ground or pulling lightly on a limb. If many needles fall off or needles can be easily pulled off, the tree is too dry.

Keep your tree as fresh as possible by placing the stump of the tree in a bucket of water out of doors until you are ready to decorate. Before setting up the tree inside the house, trim two inches off the stem diagonally so it can absorb water. Mount the tree securely in a large, wide based reservoir stand and add water each day to ensure the tree is well watered.

Choose a suitable location for your tree, ensuring that it is well away from heating sources and clear of all exits.

If natural trees aren’t for you, then use an artificial tree. But there are still dangers associated with these as well.

Though fireproof, metal or aluminum trees are electrically conductive and cannot be decorated with any electrical product. The metal can cause a short and a fire, or simply become &uot;hot&uot; or deliver a nasty shock. Aluminum trees can be illuminated by a colorful spotlight placed a safe distance from the tree, as set out in the manufacturer’s instructions.

Once you have tree up, whether it is natural or artificial, be careful of your decorations and also presents. Christmas wrapping and decorations can be highly combustible, and should be kept away from heat sources such as candles, lamps, heaters, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Gift wrap and boxes should be collected as soon as gifts are opened, and discarded with the garbage or recycled where appropriate.

Also, as the chief noted, check your lighting.

Use only those lights that have been tested and labeled by an approved testing laboratory.

"Make sure that the lights you use are for that purpose so inside lights inside and outside lights on the outside," he said.

Examine light strings, cords, plugs and receptacles before using. Discard any that have frayed cords, cracks in the lamp-holders, or loose connections.

Do not overload electrical circuits or extension cords, and follow instructions on cord labels regarding connecting light strings to extension cords.

Never place furniture or other objects over electrical cords and in particular, never run electrical cords under a rug. With a rug covering a cord, any damage the cord may sustain can go unnoticed.

Always unplug the light string before attempting to replace a bulb. Ensure the voltage and/or wattage marked on the light set is compatible with the replacement light. This is especially important with mini-lights as they come in different voltages.

Avoid using timers on indoor lights. Tree lights could turn on when no one is at home and create a potential fire hazard. Always turn Christmas lights off before leaving home or going to sleep.

Use the same caution outdoors with lighting and decorations.

Follow these guidelines:

n Use only those lights that have been tested and labeled by an approved testing laboratory and are marked for outdoor use.

n Turn off the electricity to the supply outlet before working on outdoor wiring.

n Keep electrical connections off the ground and clear of metal objects. Use insulated tape, not metal nails or tacks, to hold strings of outdoor lights in place. Be careful not to tape the cords either over, under, or along metal eaves troughs.

n Run cords above ground, keeping them out of puddles and snow.

n Tape all plug connections with plastic electrical tape to make them as watertight as possible. To prevent moisture from entering bulb sockets, bulbs should face the ground.

n When using spotlights or floodlights to light your home or trees, ensure they are marked for outdoor use to withstand snow and rain. Indoor floodlights should never be used outdoors.

Another fire hazard is based on those old fashioned Christmas photos where candles are burning on the tree.

Put it this way, if you put a flame near a tree, it is going to eventually erupt in flames.

So never use lit candles as decorations on Christmas trees. Place candles in non-tip candle holders and ensure they are well away from Christmas tree or other combustible materials. Never leave lit candles unattended and ensure that they are always out of reach of the children.

Matches and lighters are tools not toys! Store them up high where children can’t reach them.