For many, the holidays are made up of the smell of pine trees, warm eggnog, hot chocolate, Christmas lights, decorations, traveling long distances and being in the company of family and friends. It may be easy to forget how dangerous they can be if safety precautions aren’t taken.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2006 and 2011 U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 230 home fires started by Christmas trees. Electrical problems accounted for one-third of them and about one of every 40 fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death.
Buying a fresh Christmas tree is essential to preventing house fires.
“The best way to determine if the tree is fresh is by bending the needles, and if they are flexible, you know it’s fresh,” said Ben Bruce, 56th Fighter Wing ground safety manager. “You also want to ask whoever is working at the tree nursery to cut the base of the tree a few times so it will absorb water easily when it’s set in the stand.”
In addition, it is important to place the Christmas tree away from heat sources, electrical components, pets and main walkways, so it’s not a tripping hazard, said Staff Sgt. Jason DeJesus, 56th FW ground safety technician. When decorating the tree, place glass ornaments higher to keep children safe as well as using lights that are Underwriter Laboratory-approved.
“The biggest concern we have is when the tree gets dry a couple days after Christmas,” Bruce said. “Dry trees can become a fire hazard with all the lights and ornaments being on there as well, so remember to water your tree once a day.”
It is also important to take safety precautions when putting Christmas lights on the home’s exterior.
“Putting up lights outside is always a two-man job,” Bruce said. “Never do it alone. One person should hold the ladder while the other puts up the lights.”
Lights should be placed where they are not obstructing the path to enter or exit the house, Bruce said. Bulbs should be appropriately tacked, stapled, nailed or hooked being careful not to puncture through the wiring.
“I suggest purchasing items that are Underwriter Laboratory-approved because we know they’ve been tested for safety,” Bruce said. “This will minimize the possibility of electrical shorts and other dangers.”
If travelling to an area where there may be snow, it is best to drive for the conditions, Bruce said.
“One’s following distance should be increased from two to three seconds or at least 300 feet, in case of black ice or anything that may lessen the vehicle’s traction on the road,” he said.
DeJesus recommends packing an emergency kit for the drive consisting of survival essentials such as water, canned food, a first-aid kit, and blankets, and if driving in the snow, snow chains, cat litter or saw dust.
For those who plan to drink or attend a holiday party, Bruce advocates following the 0-0-1-3 rule which is zero underage drinking, zero driving under the influence, one drink per hour and three drinks maximum.
“I want all our Airmen, NCOs and officers to stay safe and not overindulge, but still enjoy the holiday,” Bruce said. “And if you know an Airman who may not have family in the area or anywhere to go on Christmas, I encourage all our senior NCOs and officers to open up their homes so no one has to experience the holiday blues.”