Tips to keep your home safe throughout the holidays

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We’re coming up on a wonderful time of year to spend with friends and family, and to enjoy the splendour of holiday decorations.

As appealing as they are, these same decorations are at times inherently dangerous and can be a major contributing factor to injury and loss of life in our homes. Help your local fire and medical services keep the holiday season merry by keeping these safety tips in mind.

Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be tested regularly, especially before family gatherings during the holidays. This is after all, the season for candles and fireplaces.

Take the time to discuss and practice an escape plan; you never know when you and your family might need it.

Avoid burning wrapping paper in the fireplace. Wrapping paper ignites suddenly and burns intensely, which may result in a dangerous flash fire. Before using your fireplace, have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional. Always check that the flue is open before lighting up.

Indoors or out, always use decorative lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized certification organization (CSA, ULC, etc.), indicating conformance with safety standards. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and discard damaged sets. Follow manufacturers’ recommendations when stringing together multiple sets of lights. Be mindful of the length of extension cords and the load on them, because this can lead to overheating and cause fires. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been listed for outdoor use. Outdoor lights should be securely fastened to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use insulated staples to hold the strings in place, not nails or tacks, or run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores). Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI) to avoid potential shocks.

Turn off all lights, indoors and outside, when you go to bed or leave the house.

When you buy an artificial tree, look for the “fire resistant” label. Although this label does not mean the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.

When purchasing a live tree, make sure it’s freshly cut. A fresh tree is green, its needles are difficult to pull from branches, and when you bend the needles between your fingers, they do not break. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when you tap the tree on the ground, it should not lose many needles. Cut a few centimeters off the trunk of your tree to expose fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.

When you set it up at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out quickly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles made with plastic or non-leaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if they’re ingested by children.

Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens or flammable decorations. Always use non-flammable holders and place candles out of the reach of children.

Take special care to avoid sharp or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with parts that are removable or small enough to be swallowed or inhaled out of the reach of children. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food, which may tempt a child to eat them.

Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass (angel hair). Follow directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial-snow sprays.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Canadian Forces Fire Marshal

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