Baltimore County Fire Department Division Chief Michael Robinson
“Tis the season!” for celebrations, decorating, cooking shopping and all else related to sharing the joys and festivities of the holidays. This is also a time when we see an increase in fires and related accidents.
In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) from late November through January we typically see a spike in fires caused by Christmas trees, candles, lights and holiday cooking. Over the last decade, these holiday-related fires have resulted in more than $1 billion in residential property losses and more than 200 lives lost.
Your Baltimore County Fire Department urges you to take a few moments and consider some simple steps to assure your safety during this special time of the year. Here are the top 10 tips that fire safety experts recommend you consider:
- Water your tree. If you choose a live Christmas tree, assure its freshness by making a fresh cut on the base of the tree before putting your tree into a sturdy stand. Keep the needles moist by watering frequently (at least daily).
- Check your lights (maybe twice). Be sure to use only outdoor lights outside. Inspect all lights for fraying, damage and wear. If wires are visible through the insulation, discard and replace the lights. Look for cracked sockets and loose connections; if you find them, replace the string. Never plug more than three strands of lights together; this may cause heating and failure of the wires. Also, use only lights from an approved laboratory, and look for a label such as UL (Underwriter’s labs) or FM (Factory mutual). If no label, replace the lights.
- Plan your fire escape. This is a good time to make sure that you have two exits out of each room and to plan what you would do in the event of fire. Be sure that you have working smoke detectors on each level and in each sleeping area of your home.
- Sleep safe; have a carbon monoxide detector. A CO detector should be on each floor of your home. Under Baltimore County law, CO detectors are required in all rental properties and in some owner-occupied homes. Place these near sleeping areas and test them regularly.
- Be “flame aware.” Maintain at least 3 feet of clearance of any materials around a fire place. That includes hanging Christmas stockings “by the chimney with care!” Also do not leave candles unattended and teach your children to keep away from these and fireplaces.
- Clean up your wrapping paper. After opening wrapped gifts, take that paper and recycle it. Never burn it, as it may clog the chimney or spread fire as an ash. Single- stream recycling in Baltimore County makes proper disposal of wrapping paper an easy task.
- Check extension cords. Make sure that they are laboratory-approved, just like your lights. Never staple, tape or run them under rugs. Check the wattage rating, and don’t overload your electrical outlets. If a circuit trips or a fuse blows, consider that is a warning that you are overloaded. Overloaded circuits pose a fire hazard!
- Christmas tree placement. Set up your tree away from fireplaces, vents and other heat sources. The tree should also not block pathways or exits from a room.
- Decorate safely. Be careful in selecting tree ornaments that are glass or that have small pieces that can become choking hazards. When securing decorations, be careful not to tape, staple or tack them into wiring!
10. Cook with caution. We tend to cook more and use more burners and stoves at once. Watch for hot surfaces, overflowing pots/pans and never use a turkey deep fryer indoors. These require a clear, open, outdoor area and are a frequent cause of fires.
The Baltimore County Fire Department wishes you a happy and safe holiday season!