Fire & Life Safety Tips

HOLIDAY SAFETY TIPS
With the holidays rapidly approaching, we look forward to spending time with family and friends and being thankful for what we have. Unfortunately, the holidays are also the cause of tragic events that cause illness, injuries and death. Cooking, Candles, Christmas Lights and Fireplaces are some of the leading factors causing billions of dollars each year in damage and medical costs. Probably one of the last things on peoples mind during the holidays is safety; the hustle and bustle of shopping, preparing the perfect meal or planning a great party puts safety on the back burner. During my 28-year career, I can’t tell you how many holiday related fires and injuries I have responded to. “I never thought this would happen to me” is the usual statement; but holiday safety is a very basic concept that tends to be overlooked. A time when we should be relaxing and having a good time tends to cause complacency and stress. These safety tips are not all inclusive, but by following these suggestions hopefully you will have a joyous holiday season and not become a statistic.


COOKING & FOOD SAFETY
The kitchen is the heart of the home, especially during the holidays. Kids love to be involved in holiday preparations. Safety in the kitchen is important, especially on Thanksgiving Day when there is a lot of activity and people at home.

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stove top so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a cabinet works well.
  • Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food, after handling any raw poultry or meat and before eating.
  • Keep your food preparation surfaces and utensils clean and sanitized to reduce the risk of salmonella poisoning.
  • Use separate cutting boards - one for meat, poultry and fish and one for cooked foods, vegetables and fruits. Sanitize the cutting board after each use.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruits before you prepare them.
  • Thaw a frozen turkey safely in the refrigerator allowing 3-4 days for thawing or approximately one day for every five pounds. Another way to safely thaw a frozen turkey is submerging it in cold water. Replace the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. This method takes approximately 30 minutes for each pound the turkey weighs.
  • Refrigerate a thawed, or fresh, turkey for no longer than two days before cooking.
  • Immediately cook a small turkey that is defrosted in the microwave.
  • If you cook your stuffing inside the turkey, add the stuffing just before roasting.
  • Always use a meat thermometer to see if the turkey is completely cooked. The temperature needs to reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit when inserted in the thickest area of the thigh.
  • Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours after cooking.
  • Leftovers should be eaten within three or four days. If you are going to freeze leftovers, do that right away, not after they have been refrigerated for several days.


CHRISTMAS TREE SAFETY TIPS
Each year, fire departments respond to thousands of structure fires caused by Christmas trees. Carefully decorating Christmas trees can help make your holidays safer.

Picking the tree
  • If you have an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire retardant.
  • For traditionalists who prefer real trees, choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
Placing the tree
  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1" - 2" from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.
Lighting the tree
  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of LED strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  •  Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
After Christmas
  •  Get rid of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home, garage or placed outside against the home. Check with your local community to find a recycling program. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

CANDLE SAFETY
Causes and Circumstances of Home Candle Fires
  • On average, 42 home candle fires are reported every day.
  • More than half of all candle fires start when something that could burn, such as furniture, mattresses or bedding, curtains, or decorations that are too close to the candle.
  • In one-fifth (20%) of candle fires, the candles are unattended.
  • Over one-third (36%) of home candle fires begin in the bedroom.
  • Falling asleep is a factor in 12% of home candle fires and 36% of the associated deaths.
  • December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In December, 13% of home candle fires begin with decorations compared to 4% the rest of the year.
  • One-half of home candle fire deaths occur between Midnight and 6 am.
  • Young children and older adults have the highest death risk from candle fires.
Candle Safety Tips
  • Put candles in sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders.
  • Consider using battery-operated or electric flameless candles and fragrance warmers, which can look, smell and feel like real candles – without the flame.
  • If you do use candles, ensure they are in sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders and placed where they cannot be easily knocked down.
  • Avoid using candles in bedrooms and sleeping areas.
  • Extinguish candles after use and before going to bed.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Children should never be allowed to play with matches, lighters or candles.
  • Never use a candle where medical oxygen is being used. The two can combine to create a large, unexpected fire.
  • Always use a flashlight – not a candle – for emergency lighting.
  • Never put candles on a Christmas tree.
  • Don't place lit candles in windows, where blinds and curtains can close over them
  • And NEVER leave burning candles unattended!

FIREPLACE SAFETY
More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.

Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently. Check with your insurance company, there have been instances where a chimney has caused a fire in a home and because the home owner could not prove that the chimney had been professionally cleaned and inspected during the previous 12-months, the claim was denied.

Keep Fireplaces and Wood Stoves Clean
  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
  • Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
Safely Burn Fuels
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.
Protect the Outside of Your Home
  • Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
  • Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
  • Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.
Protect the Inside of Your Home
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
  • Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
  • Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.

SMOKE ALARM SAFETY TIPS
Smoke alarms save lives. Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. When there is a fire, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to give you time to get out.

  • Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. 
  • An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires, and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms and a combination alarm (photoelectric and ionization) should be installed in homes.
  • Test alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button.
  • Smoke rises; install smoke alarms following manufacturer's instructions high on a wall or on a ceiling. Save manufacturer's instructions for testing and maintenance.
  • Replace batteries in all smoke alarms at least once a year. If an alarm “chirps”, warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
  • Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard-wired alarms, when they are 10 years old or sooner if they do not respond properly.
  • Be sure the smoke alarm has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Alarms that are hard-wired (and include battery backup) must be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • If cooking fumes or steam sets off nuisance alarms, replace the alarm with an alarm that has a "hush" button. A "hush" button will reduce the alarm’s sensitivity for a short period of time.
  • An ionization alarm with a hush button or a photoelectric alarm should be used if the alarm is within 20 feet of a cooking appliance.
  • Smoke alarms that include a recordable voice announcement in addition to the usual alarm sound, may be helpful in waking children through the use of a familiar voice.
  • Smoke alarms are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These devices use strobe lights. Vibration devices can be added to these alarms
  • Smoke alarms are an important part of a home fire escape plan.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
 
Christmas lights are beautiful and much safer than candles, but all that electricity can cause problems if not used properly. Christmas lights can get hot enough to burn or ignite other decorations. The cords can fray, leading to a short. Decorating with lights often requires the use of a ladder, and improper use could lead to an injury.

When you put up Christmas lights this season - or holiday lights during any season be sure to follow these Christmas light safety tips.
  • Choose Christmas lights that have been tested and deemed safe by a reputable testing laboratory, the best are UL or ETL. Christmas lights listed as safe by these laboratories will note that on the packaging.
  • Try to use the cooler-burning "mini" Christmas lights as opposed to the traditional larger bulbs. The older style burns much hotter.
  • Only use Christmas lights that have fuses in the plugs.
  • Inspect each set of Christmas lights - old or new - for damage. Return or throw out any set with cracked or broken sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.
  • Replace burned out bulbs promptly with bulbs of the same wattage.
  • Never hang Christmas lights on a metal tree. The tree can become charged with electricity and shock someone. The tree can also short out the Christmas lights and cause a fire.
  • Want Christmas lights outdoors? Use outdoor Christmas lights. The packaging will note whether the lights can be used indoors, outdoors, or both.
  • All outdoor electrical decorations should be plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). You can buy portable units for outdoor use, or you can have them permanently installed by an electrician.
  • Use extension cords properly. Outdoor cords can be used inside or outside. Do not overload extension cords - they can get hot enough to burn.
  • Stay away from powerlines or feeder lines (these go from the pole to the house).
  • Secure outside Christmas lights with insulated holders (never use tacks or nails).
  • When you leave or go to bed at night, turn off your Christmas lights.
  • Never pull on a string of Christmas lights, it stresses the cords and can lead to fraying. Store Christmas lights loosely wrapped for the same reason.

Anyone having questions or needing more information regarding holiday safety or fire safety in general are encouraged to contact the Hope Mills Fire Department at 910-424-0948 and ask for the Fire Marshal. You may also e-mail us at bham@townofhopemills.com or clhodges@townofhopemills.com