Your Holiday Season Fire Safety List: Have You Checked It Twice?

With the holiday season upon us, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) reminds New Yorkers to be aware of the safety hazards posed by hanging electric lights, lighting candles, preparing holiday meals and even putting up trees.  According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires occurring during the holiday season claim 400 lives, injure more than 1,600 people, and cause more $990 million in fire damage each year.

“The best gift you can give yourself and your family is the gift of safety, and these tips should be at the top of any holiday list,” said FASNY President David Jacobowitz.  “Check for frayed wires or broken bulbs when unfurling strands of electric or LED lights.  Place candles away from anything flammable, such as curtains or furniture.  Ensure that your trees aren’t dried out.  When cooking holiday meals, don’t wear loose clothing around open flames and don’t let children run around the kitchen.  And of course check your smoke detectors to ensure they are working properly.  Following these and other basic fire safety tips will help make sure that you and your families enjoy a happy and safe holiday season.”

FASNY and the National Fire Protection Association offer the following safety tips: 

  • When shopping for and installing holiday decorations and lighting:
    • When possible, choose decorations made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials.  Look for these designations on the product’s packaging.
    • Purchase lights and electrical decorations stamped with the name or symbol of an independent testing lab – for example, “UL”, or Underwriters’ Laboratories – and ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and maintenance.
    • Carefully inspect new and previously used light strands.  Look for frayed cables and replace any damaged or missing bulbs before plugging lights in.
    • Do not overload extension cords, “power strips” and electrical outlets.
    • When using power cords to illuminate outdoor displays, ensure that they are designated for EXTERNAL or outdoor use only – NEVER use power cords that are meant for indoor use.  (Always check the product’s packaging, which usually indicates outdoor or indoor use.)
    • Turn lights off overnight.  If possible, use a timer device to turn your lights off automatically.  This not only lessens the risk of fire, but saves on your energy bills as well.
  • If you light holiday candles or candelabras (menorahs, window candles, etc.) 
    • Keep lighted candles and candelabras at least one foot away from any combustible materials.  DO NOT place candles anywhere near window curtains, furniture, wrapped gifts or anything else that could easily ignite.
    • Place candles and candelabras where they cannot be knocked down or tipped/blown over.  If possible, keep the candle inside a weighted holder or one with a wide base.
    • Extinguish a candle before it burns to within two inches of its holder.
    • NEVER leave a lighted candle unattended – extinguish a candle before leaving the room.
    • Discourage the use of candles in bedrooms and other areas where you may fall asleep.
    • Store matches and lighters in high places, out of the reach of children, and ideally inside a locked cabinet.
    • Consider using battery-powered candles instead; if using electrical, “plug-in” candles follow manufacturers’ instructions.
  • When choosing a Christmas tree

    • Check a tree for dryness while at the seller’s lot: shake the trunk above a light-colored surface and watch for falling needles.  If too many dry needles fall, choose a fresher tree.
    • Avoid trees with an artificial-looking green tint on the branches or trunk – these trees may have been spray-painted to improve its appearance.  The paint used may not only be combustible, but could be hazardous as well.  When in doubt, ask the seller if he or she sells painted trees.
    • Have the merchant saw off an inch or two from the trunk of the tree to help keep the tree fresh longer at home; also, if your tree is left outside, placing the trunk in a bucket of water will help keep it fresh.
    • When disposing of a tree, DO NOT leave it inside a home or building; DO NOT place it against the exterior of a home or building.  In both cases, the tree is likely dried out and thus poses a fire hazard.
  • Holiday Cooking: While Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires – Home cooking equipment fires were 55% higher on Christmas Eve and 68% higher on Christmas Day.
    • Stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling or broiling food.
    • Most cooking fires involve the stovetop. Keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time.
    • If you’re simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
    • For homes with children, create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.

About FASNY 

Founded in 1872, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) represents the interests of 140,000 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel in New York State.  For more information, visit www.fasny.com.