Winter holiday safety

Tis the season for joy, happiness, decorations, and unfortunately fires. That’s right, as you pull out containers and containers of decorations, climbing up ladders to string 46 strands of lights together, laying out garland on the mantel with beautiful scented candles, we at the Gallatin Fire Department are noticing an increase in calls.

Lucky for you, there are a few very simple precautions you can take to ensure your holiday season is a safe one from accidents and fires.

We will start at the beginning with putting up the decorations.

Inspect holiday lights each year before you put them up. Throw away light strands with frayed or pinched wires.

When connecting strands of lights together, note what the labels say as to how many can be stranded together. If your breaker box keeps tripping, that’s a red flag!

Please be very careful when using ladders. Make sure they are on the sturdy ground so they will not slip and are at the correct angle. Have someone there to hold the ladder and help you; no matter how pretty the decorations look, you won’t be able to enjoy them from the hospital if you fall and are injured.

Let’s talk about candles now. If you have heard any of my fire prevention speeches, you know how much I do not like candles. From a firefighter’s perspective, you are bringing an open flame into your home. Yes, I get how much you love the smell. I confess I was once a candle lover; the coffee scent was my favorite. Then one morning I responded to a house that was fully ablaze and a total loss. Once the owners came home, they told us they had left a candle burning on the bathroom windowsill. It’s not worth it people!

More than half of the home decoration fires in December are started by candles.

The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. (This doesn’t mean you’re safe the other days.)

Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.

If you decide to ignore all of my expert, wise advice completely, make sure your candle is in a stable holder and place it where it cannot be knocked down easily. Also place it where materials such as curtains will not blow towards it and remember that many times when a candle burns out, it can flame up at the end. And most of all, place your car keys next to the lite candle so if you leave the house, you are forced to remember to blow the flame out.

These days’ decorations are made under much stricter standards than ever before. Only purchase electrical decorations that are UL approved from a known supplier. Make sure you are using the decorations as recommended by the manufacturer. If you are still plugging in your grandmothers Christmas lights from 1972, it’s definitely time to throw them away and buy new ones. I assure you that Granny wants you to be safe too.

I will talk more in-depth about heaters and Christmas trees in the coming weeks but for now, let’s be safe decorating our homes.

Elizabeth Bednarcik, fire marshal at Gallatin Fire Department, Elizabeth.bednarcik@gallatintn.gov.

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