According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) most home fires are preventable, and it is never too early to protect your loved ones and your home from fire damage. In addition, according to NFPA statistics, structure fires increase during the winter months, especially during the holidays. The Keep the Wreath Red campaign, which originated in 1954 by the Naperville, Illinois, Fire Department — and then was adopted in 1980 by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association — promotes fire safety awareness. Most fire stations allow some form of holiday decorations, and with “Keep the Wreath Red,” a fire house displays a large holiday wreath decorated in red lights to raise fire safety awareness.
With the “Keep the Wreath Red” program, the wreaths remain lighted 24 hours a day during the holiday season. If a fire occurs that is determined to be the result of a holiday decoration, the fire station replaces one red bulb in the wreath with a white bulb. The hope is the wreath will serve as a constant reminder to practice fire safety during the holiday season.
Kinsale Contracting Group Inc. suggests following these simple winter and holiday safety tips to keep your home and family fire safe:
- Test smoke alarms. Make sure batteries are fresh and place smoke alarms in the kitchen, laundry room and in bedrooms.
- Have your furnace checked. It is worth the money to hire a professional to inspect and service your furnace once a year.
- Have your chimneys and vents checked. Fireplaces produce creosote which can ignite. If you light fires frequently, you need a chimney sweep service once a year. When you burn wood, make sure it’s dry and seasoned so that it produces more flame and less smoke.
- Cover the fireplace with a screen. Tempered glass or a metal screen helps protect sparks from leaving the fireplace. Even so, make sure that children and pets sit at least three feet away when you light a fire.
- Beware of lighted candles. Candles can set the mood for relaxation, and that is how they get forgotten or knocked over by kids or pets. Light candles only when you are around to watch them and blow them out when you’re ready to leave the room.
- Beware of space heaters. The name should give you a clue — space heaters need space. As with fireplaces, people and pets should not be allowed to sit any closer than three feet. Do not put space heaters near curtains, tablecloths or other fluttering fabrics. Make sure the space heaters you buy have automatic shut-offs before reaching dangerous temperatures.
- Know how to put out kitchen fires quickly. Water does not help a grease fire, which can get out of control. Keep salt and baking soda on hand to sprinkle liberally on pan fires. Keep lids handy to put on top of pots and pans that get too hot.
- Practice an escape route. Businesses have fire drills, your family should too. Teach your family to crawl to the nearest exit from every room. Show them how to drop and roll if their clothes were ever to catch on fire.
- Store multiple fire extinguishers in different areas: Keep one under the kitchen sink and in the hall closet near the bedrooms. Make sure you use the correct setting: “A” for paper, wood and trash, “B” for grease and flammable liquids, “C” for small electrical fires.
In addition, there are some specific suggestions to prevent fires during the holidays:
- Make sure a live Christmas tree doesn’t dry out. Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needles should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch.
- Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks.
- Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or woodburning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly.
- Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
- Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.
- Ensure that all decorations are nonflammable or flame retardant and placed away from heat vents.
- Do not block exits with trees or other holiday decorations. In the event of a fire, time is of the essence. A blocked entry/exit way puts you and your family at risk.
- Avoid burning wrapping paper in the fireplace. Burning wrapping paper can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.