Tis the season to be jolly, spread cheer, give gifts, and maybe even catch your home on fire. Yep, I just said that because it is the unfortunate truth.
I am going to confess that I absolutely love Christmas decorations. Sipping my peppermint coffee, Frank Sinatra singing White Christmas, watching the kids hang their stockings, I could go on and on but I’ll get to the point now.
As much as I love this time of year, my heart always aches because I know in the next few weeks here at the fire station the tones will go off and we will be dispatched to a residential fire. Engines will roll up finding smoke pouring out of windows, hopefully, the family will be standing outside safely. Our crews will bravely enter the inferno to extinguish the flames and clear out the smoke.
Then our investigation team will enter the home to find the cause of the fire which has now left a family with only the clothes on their backs and the daunting reality that everything they owned is now gone.
Remember back when you were cheerfully decking the halls for this jolly holiday? Those are the times when you can be preventing a fire from happening in your home. Below are some simple precautions you can take to keep your home safe this holiday.
The majority of fires that occur in December are started because decorations are too close to a heat source. This heat is usually a heater, fireplace, or my personal nemesis; the candle. Keep all décor at least three feet away from heat sources, and get rid of real candles!
Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are very dangerous. Fire fatalities are much more common when a fire occurs from a Christmas tree, spreading rapidly and producing immense toxic smoke. Keep trees away from heat sources including vents and radiators.
Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day, and Christmas Eve. If you are using the stovetop, stay with your food while it is cooking. If you are baking in the oven, make sure your oven is clean of debris that may ignite.
We had two oven fires last month in Gallatin due to ovens that had not been properly cleaned. Also, have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen where you can easily grab it, and know how to use it. The Gallatin Fire Department offers lessons on how to use a fire extinguisher if you are interested.
My last tip for staying safe this holiday has to do with electrical safety: Do not be like Clark Griswold. You should read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands to connect, but I know the most used method is to plug as many as you can together and hope the breaker doesn’t trip.
Seriously, do not plug in too many strands, do not use strands that are frayed or damaged, and unplug all lights, especially interior ones, when you are not home or when you go to sleep.
Fires can happen anywhere, big homes and little homes, new homes and older homes. No one ever thinks it will happen to them. I have never talked to a homeowner after a fire and they tell me, “I knew my house would burn down today,” (well maybe a few looney arsonists but that’s another story). Most people will say, “I never thought this would happen to me.”
As always, the Gallatin Fire Department is here for you, but we’d rather not see you under those circumstances.
Stay safe and have a wonderful holiday season.
Elizabeth Bednarcik is the fire marshal of the Gallatin Fire Department.