Fire Marshal’s Office Issues Holiday Safety Reminders

BERLIN – With many residents putting up fresh Christmas trees or pulling out artificial ones as the holiday season continues to peak, the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office this week issued some fire safety tips along with some common sense ideas about decorating.

According to the county fire marshal’s office, fires during the holiday season claim over 400 lives, injure over 1,600 more and cause nearly $1 billion in damage across the country each year. Most of the deaths, injuries and damages can be avoided by following a few simple life-saving steps to ensure a safe and happy holiday.

Many of the accidents and fires during the holiday season are caused by Christmas tree hazards and most are related to the use of fresh trees in homes. A video segment accompanying the release from the county fire marshal’s office shows a fresh tree igniting in seconds and completely filling a room with flames and smoke in a matter of minutes, but a potentially tragic incident can be avoided by following a few common sense safety tips when keeping a fresh tree in the home.

For example, the needles on a fresh tree should be green and difficult to pull away from the branches. The trunk should be sticky to the touch and the needles should not break off easily if the tree had been cut recently. A common test for the freshness of a tree is to bounce the trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probable dried out and is a fire hazard.

According to the fire marshal’s office, a fresh tree should not be placed close to a heat source including a fireplace or a heat vent. The heat from the source will dry out the tree, increasing its chance to create a fire hazard. The fire marshal’s office suggests not putting up a fresh tree too early or leaving it up too long, typically no longer than about two weeks.

While Christmas trees are often the source of holiday season fires, the decorations put on them, especially the lights, can contribute to a potential fire hazard. According to the fire marshal’s office, lights should be maintained and inspected each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking before being used. In addition, only strings of lights listed by an approved testing laboratory should be used.

Another important safety tip urged by the fire marshal’s office it not to overload electrical sockets. The fire marshal’s office suggests connecting no more than three strings of lights together unless the directions indicate doing so is safe. In addition, another tip is to connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into an electrical outlet.

The fire marshal’s office suggests using only approved non-flammable or flame retardant decorations and to keep them away from heat sources. Another tip is to never put wrapping paper in a fireplace, which can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.

In general, the fire marshal’s office is urging residents to avoid using lit candles this holiday season, but offers some safety tips if they are part of the holiday decorating plans. For example, if candles are used, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot easily be knocked over. Of course, it should go without saying, never leave the house with candles burning and never put lit candles on a Christmas tree.

Finally, as in every season, be sure to have working smoke alarms on every level of the home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. The fire marshal’s office is also reminding citizens to develop and practice a home escape plan and to know who and when to call for help should a fire or other accident occur.