Health & Safety

November 16, 2012

Holiday safety message from the Air Force Fire Chief

by Donald Warner
U.S. Air Force fire chief

We like to think of the upcoming holiday season as a joyous time with family and friends. Sadly, that is not always the case.

Each year hundreds of families are devastated by fire. The purpose of this message is to provide pointers so it doesn’t happen to you.

Two scenarios are our primary concern during the holiday season — cooking and Christmas tree fires.

COOKING

Cooking occurs more during this season than normal, increasing the potential for a fire on the stovetop. Know this: A cooking fire can cause major damage to your home. The smoke from the fire can cause serious damage to your cabinets and other articles throughout the house. If they are not extinguished quickly, the entire house may be destroyed. So do not take these fires lightly.

Here are some tips:

  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking.
  • Keep a metal lid handy when cooking anything in oil or grease and avoid cooking on the high setting. If the pan catches fire, slide the lid from the side over the burning pan. Once the fire is out, remove it from the heat. This is the best way to extinguish these fires. An alternative is to use an ABC or BC dry chemical extinguisher, which signifies the extinguisher is capable of handling Class A, Class B, or Class C fires. A good dousing with baking soda also works, but you’ll be exposed to the fire because you’ll have to get close.
  • NEVER USE WATER on a grease/oil fire!
  • Do not try to move a burning pan. Put the fire out in the pan where it sits.
  • If you fry a turkey, make sure you follow instructions and keep the fryer at least 25 feet from your house. Vinyl siding, if on fire, will easily melt and run up the side of a building, resulting in major damage.

CHRISTMAS TREES

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates 240 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 150 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting, occur each year. Together, these fires result in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in direct property damage.

Here are some tips:

  • Natural trees should be avoided. If you insist on having one, make sure it is freshly cut and kept wet (standing in water). If a dry tree catches fire, the possibility of successfully extinguishing it is very low, which may result in the loss of your home. The short video at http://vimeo.com/7896142 (or Google “Christmas tree fires”) illustrates this point. However, property damage isn’t the only concern; the lives of your family is at stake.
  • If you use a natural tree, make sure it’s not in the exit pathway.
  • Never use open flames such as candles near the tree, whether natural or artificial.
  • Use only Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) listed artificial trees. If you do not know whether your old tree is safe, cut a small sample and hold it over a flame. It may catch fire but it should self-extinguish when the flame is removed. If it does not, get a new tree.
  • Make sure all electric decorations are UL or FM listed and are in good repair.
  • De-energize all decorations before retiring for the evening or leaving the tree unattended.
  • Remind your family of the fire escape plan. Remember, if smoke is present, stay low or crawl to safety.
  • Routinely check smoke detectors (at least once per month and more often if in severe environments).
  • If you are a renter, maintain renter’s insurance, just in case.
  • Finally, if you have a fire, do not spend too much time trying to put it out! Getting the family out of the house is top priority! Call 9-1-1 and someone will come to put the fire out for you.

Stay Safe. Happy Holidays!




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