December is the time of year when people gather to trim the tree and enjoy a glass of eggnog, but if they are not cautious they could find themselves with an unexpected gift this holiday season. According to Underwriters Laboratory (UL), an independent not-for-profit product-safety certification organization, most fires and fire deaths occur in the United States during December, January and February. UL credits the main culprits for these fires as faulty lighting, dried-out trees, and candles.
In order to ensure a safe and festive holiday season, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) and UL urges residents to follow the following safety guidelines.
- Regularly check your tree for fresh, green needles. Trees that have dried out over several weeks are easier to ignite. Remember to keep your tree watered at all times.
- Keep your tree at least three feet from fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, heating vents and other sources of heat. Don't place the tree where it blocks an exit. Make sure your tree stand holds at least one gallon of water. The average six-foot tree has a four-inch diameter trunk and can consume as much as four quarts or one gallon of water per day.
- Look for the UL mark on light strings, electrical decorations and extension cords.
- Ensure lights, decorations and extension cords are rated for outdoor or indoor use.
- Carefully inspect each electrical decoration -new or old - before plugging it in. Cracked sockets, frayed, bare or loose wires can cause a serious electric shock or start a fire.
- Don't use staples or nails to hang light strings. Instead, purchase hooks or clips designed for hanging light strings.
- Don't overload extension cords by plugging in too many decorations.
- Turn off all electrical lights or decorations before leaving home or going to bed.
- When the holidays are over, take down your lights. Light strings are not meant to be up more than 90 days.
- Keep candles away from decorations, curtains, bedding, paper, walls, furniture or other combustible materials.
- Place candles away from spots where they could be knocked over by a person or a pet.
- Use sturdy, non-combustible candleholders that can collect dripping wax and won't tip over.
- Extinguish a candle when two inches of wax remains or a half-inch if the candle is in a container. This prevents heat damage to the surface and stop glass containers from breaking.
- Don't leave children unattended in a room with lit candles.
- Always leave candles, as well as matches and lighters, out of the reach of children.
- Never use lit candles to decorate Christmas trees.
- Extinguish candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
- Use wooden or fiberglass ladders when near power lines and electrical wiring.
- Use a ladder with the right height, ensuring it extends three feet over the roofline or working surface.
- Set the ladder on a firm, level surface and avoid soft or muddy ground.
- Never exceed the ladder's weight limit or the maximum load rating.
- Never stand on a step ladder's bucket shelf. Read and follow the warning stickers for highest standing levels.
- Don't carry equipment while climbing. Wear a tool belt or have someone hand equipment to you.
- Face the ladder when climbing up or down, keeping your body centered between the side rails.
According to UL, each year 12,500 people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorations.