Heights Fire officials urge safety in holiday plans

With the holiday season in full swing, the Dearborn Heights Fire Department urges everyone to exercise care and common sense as they plan their seasonal activities.

According to Dearborn Heights Fire Chief Andrew Gurka and Fire Marshal Dave Brogan, holiday fires kill or injure upward of 2,000 individuals and cause over $900 million in damage annually.

According to Gurka, one of the greatest safety threats during the holiday season comes as a result of the careless use of live Christmas trees. “Speaking from a fire prevention standpoint, we would, of course, prefer that every tree in every home were fireproof – but that’s just not the case. The tradition of decorating a real tree for the holidays is one tradition that will never change for many, in spite of the increased risk of fire.” For those who do use real trees, Brogan recommends the following to help reduce the chance of fire:

Make sure your tree is fresh: When shopping for a fresh tree, needles should be green and hard to pull from the branches, and should not break when bent. Bounce the trunk of the tree on the ground – if many needles fall off, the tree was probably cut a long time ago, has dried out, and presents a fire hazard. If no needles drop off, the tree is relatively fresh. Also, the trunks of fresh trees should be sticky to the touch.

Take good care of your tree. Always keep your tree away from sources of heat or flame, (such as fireplaces, heat vents, candles, etc.). Heat sources dry trees out quickly, making them easier to catch fire by heat, flame or sparks. Keep your tree stand full of water at all times, and never smoke near your tree. Even if your tree was fresh when you put it up, it shouldn’t be left up longer than two weeks (check the needles periodically to ensure the tree hasn’t dried out). If there are obvious signs of drying (such as needles dropping) remove the tree and discard it – and never burn the branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove.

They also remind residents to consider other precautions while preparing for their holiday festivities as well, including steps to:

Check all holiday lights carefully for frayed wires, bare spots, broken or cracked sockets, or excessive wear. If any exist, don’t try to fix the lights – replace them. Also, use only lighting that displays the approval of an approved testing laboratory, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM). When lit, do not leave your lights unattended for extended periods.

Choose decorations carefully. Make sure all decorations are flame-resistant (no matter where you will be using them), and avoid flammable items such as dried moss, leaves, straw, corn stalks, cotton, paper streamers, or wood bark/shavings.

Don’t overload electrical outlets. Generally, no more than three light strands should be linked safely (unless the directions indicate it is safe to link more). Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Also, don’t run lights or wires behind drapes, under carpets, or through doorways.

Unwrap gifts with care. Avoid unwrapping gifts near open sources of flame (such as fireplaces or candles) – and never discard printed wrapping paper in a fireplace. This could throw off dangerous sparks and produce chemical gasses that could be hazardous.

Use common sense with candles. If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked over. Never let small children near candles/lighters/matches, or leave lit candles unattended – and never put lit candles on or near a tree. Consider using the newer flameless candles that have become popular over the past few years.

Cook with care. When working in the kitchen, use common sense – never leave pots unattended on burners. Turn all handles inward, and keep your cooking area uncluttered. Always keep small children and pets away from the stove while cooking, and keep a small fire extinguisher handy.

Use caution with plants. Keep holiday plants like mistletoe, holly berries and Christmas cactus away from children and pets. Although studies have shown the poinsettia plant is non-toxic, ingesting small amounts may nonetheless result in mild gastrointestinal irritation (upset stomach).

Gurka and Brogan also urge everyone – not just during the holidays, but throughout the year – to have working smoke alarms installed on every level of the home, and test them regularly. They also encourage residents to simply “slow down and think twice” while going about their business. Brogan added, “Many times, we find that both fires and household accidents are the result of folks simply getting a little too rushed, and overlooking something they shouldn’t have. Particularly during this busy time of the year, it is important to just step back for a moment and collect your thoughts before rushing into your activities. We want everyone to have a safe and happy holiday season – but please do it carefully, and with some good common sense.”