ALBANY — The holiday season is officially underway, and New Yorkers are decorating trees, lighting candles, stringing lights, and getting into the spirit of things. The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) urges everyone to exercise caution and keep fire safety in mind when decorating for the holidays. When holiday lights and other decorations are not used properly, they can cause fires, injuries, and even death.
“As New Yorkers get their holiday seasons underway, FASNY wants to take the opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of fire safety,” said FASNY President Steven Klein. “Winter is traditionally the busiest time of the year for home fires, and the prevalence of Christmas lights, candles, and other flammable objects means the holidays involve a heightened risk of fire. New York’s brave volunteer firefighters will be standing ready throughout the holiday season to assist anyone in need, and FASNY encourages everybody to follow some simple safety tips and to not hesitate to call 911 in an emergency. We wish everybody a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.”
According to the US Fire Administration, New York State currently ranks third in the nation for home fire deaths, trailing only Texas and Pennsylvania, with the busy part of the year still to come. Data collected by the National Fire Protection Association shows that between 2012 and 2016, U.S. fire departments responded to a yearly average of 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees. These fires caused an average of four deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually. Christmas tree fires tend to be deadlier than other types of fires, as one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires. The culprit is often festive lighting, as electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 43 percent of home Christmas tree fires.
FASNY offers the following safety tips:
When choosing a Christmas tree:
n Check a tree for dryness while at the seller’s lot — shake the trunk above a light-colored surface and watch for falling needles. If too dry, many needles will fall out. Choose a fresher tree.
n Avoid trees with an artificial-looking green tint on the branches or trunk — these trees may have been spray-painted to improve their appearance. The paint used may not only be combustible but could be hazardous as well. When in doubt, ask the seller if they sell painted trees.
n Have the merchant saw off an inch or two from the trunk of the tree to help keep the tree fresh longer at home. If your tree is left outside, placing the trunk in a bucket of water will help keep it fresh.
n When disposing of a tree, DO NOT leave it inside a home or building, and DO NOT place it against the exterior of a home or building. In both cases, the tree is likely dried out and thus poses a fire hazard.
When choosing holiday decorations and lighting:
n When possible, choose decorations made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials. Look for these designations on the product’s packaging.
n Purchase lights and electrical decorations stamped with the name or symbol of an independent testing lab — for example, “UL” or Underwriters’ Laboratories — and ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and maintenance.
n Carefully inspect new and previously used light strands. Look for frayed cables and replace any damaged or missing bulbs before plugging lights in.
n Do not overload extension cords, “power strips” and electrical outlets.
n When using power cords to illuminate outdoor displays, ensure that they are designated for EXTERNAL or outdoor use only — NEVER use power cords that are meant for indoor use. Always check the product’s packaging, which usually indicates outdoor or indoor use.
n Turn lights off overnight. If possible, use a timer device to turn your lights off automatically. This not only lessens the risk of fire but saves on energy bills as well.
If you light holiday candles or candelabras (menorahs, window candles, etc.):
n Keep lighted candles and candelabras at least one foot away from any combustible materials. DO NOT place candles anywhere near window curtains, furniture, wrapped gifts or anything else that could easily ignite.
n Place candles and candelabras where they cannot be knocked down or tipped/blown over. If possible, keep the candle inside a weighted holder or one with a wide base.
n Extinguish a candle before it burns to within two inches of its holder.
n NEVER leave a lighted candle unattended — extinguish a candle before leaving the room.
n Discourage the use of candles in bedrooms and other areas where you may fall asleep.
n Store matches and lighters in high places, out of the reach of children, and ideally inside a locked cabinet.
n Consider using battery-powered candles instead. If using electrical “plug-in” candles, then follow manufacturers’ instructions.
Holiday Cooking (home cooking equipment fires were 55 percent higher on Christmas Eve and 68 percent higher on Christmas Day):
Stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling or broiling food.
Most cooking fires involve the stovetop. Keep anything that can catch fire away from it and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time.
If you’re simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
For homes with children, create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
For information, visit the National Fire Protection Association website at www.nfpa.org.