By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Region – The holidays are filled with the warmth of family, friendship and faith, which is often expressed through activities, such as baking, cooking, lighting candles and displaying lights and decorations. But as wonderful as these activities can be, all of them can cause tragic fires.
According to a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2017, in addition to 14,670 civilian fire injuries, there were 3,400 civilian fatalities caused by fire. Home fires caused 77 percent of those fatalities.
Fortunately, there are many ways people can decrease their chances of experiencing home fires. And local fire departments not only dedicate their time and energy to fighting fires, many are also dedicated to educating their communities about fire prevention. Recently, two local firefighters shared some tips on how to prevent fires during the holiday season.
- Stand by your pan: Westborough Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Jason Ferschke said that cooking fires have become the leading cause of home fires.
“One of the most important things that someone can do to prevent a cooking fire is to be attentive to what they are doing,” he said. “While you should always stand by your pan, a helpful tip would be to set a timer on your phone to go off approximately when your food should be done cooking. I often do this when I know I might get distracted…”
- Keep items away from your cooking surface: Ferschke said that another way of preventing cooking fires is by keeping all cooking surfaces free from things such as towels, papers and curtains.
- Check your oven before preheating: Ferschke also advised “Always look in your ovens before preheating, in case someone left something in the oven – like a pizza box,” advised.
- Don’t disable a smoke detector: “You should never disable a smoke detector that goes off when cooking,” Ferschke further cautioned. “You may forget to put it back.”
- Position your Christmas tree carefully: Shrewsbury Fire Department Captain Sean T. Lawlor noted that according to NFPA statistics, between 2009 and 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that began with Christmas trees each year. He shared that one tip for preventing such fires is to position trees at least three feet away from heat sources in an area where they won’t block doorways or exit routes. And if a Christmas tree is in a room with a fireplace, it should be secured, so that it can’t tip over.
- Use non-flammable decorations: Lawlor also noted that according to NFPA statistics, decorations cause an average of 860 home fires each year. He said that one way to prevent those types of fires is by using non-combustible or flame-resistant decorations such as tinsel or other items made of plastic or nonleaded metals on Christmas trees.
- Replace any worn or broken strings of lights: Lawlor shared that it’s also important to replace any loose bulbs and any light strings that have worn or broken cords, as they are significant fire hazards.
- Use UL-approved lights: He added that those lights should be endorsed by an independent testing lab, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Unplug unattended Christmas lights: Lawlor also strongly recommended that people unplug their holiday lights before they go to sleep and when they leave their homes.
- Position candles carefully: According to the NFPA, candles are a major cause of decorations-related home fires. Lawlor suggested putting candles on stable heat-resistant surfaces where they will be out of reach of pets and small children, and they should be placed where people won’t forget about them. He noted that it’s important to monitor anything with an open flame.
- Make sure you have a fire extinguisher: Ferschke recommended that people keep fire extinguishers in their homes, and he recommended that they learn how to use them properly.
- Make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Both Ferschke and Lawlor stressed the importance of smoke detectors. While Ferschke noted that they shouldn’t be more than 10 years old, Lawlor said that “residents should check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure that they are operating properly.”
- Have your home inspected: “The Westborough Fire Department offers home safety inspections as part of our community risk reduction program,” said Ferschke, who noted that the inspections are free and can be requested by emailing Captain Keith Lermond at [email protected]. “During this inspection, we…check your smoke detectors, look for obvious hazards, electrical hazards and inspect the area around your furnace.”
- Contact your local fire department if you have questions: “If residents have any concerns or questions, please feel free to contact your local fire department,” said Lawlor. “Don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to having a safe holiday.”