With the kids home from school on holiday vacation and out-of-town guests arriving soon, safety in the home may not be the first thing on many parents’ minds. After all, there are decorations that need to be put up and cookies still to be baked. What you may fail to realize is that when decorating is done, the work is not over. From candles to Christmas trees, ensuring a festive, safe atmosphere, especially for children, will be the most important preparation of all.
Residential fires are an increased threat during the holiday decorating season. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, candles will be the source of about 1,600 home fires this winter holiday season. Christmas trees also pose a potential fire risk if not cared for and properly maintained. They cause about 200 fires during the holidays each year.
“Parents may get caught up in creating an unforgettable holiday environment for their families and unknowingly put their children at risk this holiday season by overlooking the potential dangers of their decorations,” says Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. “Whether you’re putting up a Christmas tree or lighting the Menorah or Kwanzaa candles, taking simple precautions can help make your holidays more joyful and safe.”
- Christmas Trees
- General Fire Safety Tips
- Fire Safety for Children
- Holiday Foods and Ornaments
- Decorate your tree using only UL (Underwriters' Laboratories)-approved lights and cords.
- Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections or broken sockets.
- Do not overload extension cords. Use no more than three strings of lights on one extension cord.
- Never run an electrical cord under a carpet.
- Be sure to secure electrical cords so that children cannot pull them and topple the tree.
- Turn off the tree lights when you go to bed, leave the house or otherwise leave the tree unattended.
- If you choose to buy a natural tree, look for a fresh one. Fresh trees are less likely to catch fire than older trees. (A safer option is to buy a fire-resistant artificial tree.)
- Keep your tree in a container full of water and check it daily.
- Use a wide-based stand to make sure the tree is secure and will not fall over.
- Cover the tree basin with a tree skirt or blanket.
- Keep the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators and heating vents.
- Cut back the lower branches to avoid eye injuries to small children.
- Decorate your tree with children in mind.
- Do not put ornaments that are breakable, have small detachable parts or metal hooks or look like food or candy on the lower branches where small children can reach them.
- Make sure tree lights are hung out of reach of young children.
- Never burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood or even wrapping paper in your fireplace.
- Dispose of your tree promptly after the holidays.
- Avoid using candles. If you do use candles, make sure they are in a stable holder and placed where they cannot be easily knocked down.
- Do not leave lit candles unattended. Never put candles on a Christmas tree, and never leave the house with candles left burning.
- Do not place candles near draperies or anything that might easily catch fire.
- Keep candles out of children’s reach; keep matches and lighters out of sight and locked away.
- Teach children not to touch or play with candles, matches or lighters.
- Install smoke alarms in your home on every level and in every sleeping area.
- Test alarms once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
- Home fires and home fire-related deaths are more likely to occur during the cold-weather months.
- Plan and practice several fire escape routes from each room of your home, and identify an outside meeting place.
- Plan how adults can escape with babies. The risk of residential fire death in the United States for children under the age of 5 is twice that of the rest of the population.
- Teach your child what a smoke alarm sounds like.
- Teach your child to crawl low under smoke. More than 70 percent of childhood fire deaths are caused by the smoke and toxic gases produced as a fire develops and spreads.
- Teach your child to cover their mouths and noses. A moist towel is best, but a t-shirt or any cloth within reach can protect lungs from dangerous fumes.
- Teach your child to touch doors before opening them. If the door is hot, they should use an alternative exit.
- Teach your child never to go back into a burning building. Children should be reminded not to stop or return for anything, such as a toy or to call 9-1-1. A call to 9-1-1 should be placed after leaving the premises.
- Teach your child to “stop, drop and roll." Upon leaving a burning house or building, children whose clothes have caught on fire should immediately stop, drop to the ground and roll back and forth to quickly extinguish the flames.
- Take your child to your local fire station for a tour. They will be able to see a firefighter in full firefighting gear and learn that he or she is someone who puts out fires and saves children.
Some foods and objects pose a choking hazard to young children, especially children under age 6. To help prevent unintentional choking during the holidays:
- Keep round, hard foods and candies such as candy cane pieces, mints, nuts and popcorn out of reach of young children.
- Keep small ornaments, tinsel, figurines and other decorations away from children’s reach. Young children have a tendency to put everything in their mouths.
While preparing your home for the holidays, be aware of seemingly innocent and unexpected forms of poisons.
- Install UL-approved carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
- When burning wood, open the flue in your fireplace to provide adequate ventilation. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases dramatically in the winter. Proper ventilation of fuel-burning appliances reduces this risk. Check these appliances annually and before you first use them in cold-weather months.
- Keep alcoholic drinks and their containers out of reach. Holiday beverages such as eggnog laced with alcohol may be sweet and inviting to young children. Do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended. They can be harmful to children who consume them.
- Keep the common baking ingredients vanilla and almond extracts out of reach. They contain high levels of alcohol and may be harmful to young children.
- Beware of fire salts used in fireplaces to produce colored flames. They contain heavy metals and cause intense gastrointestinal irritation or vomiting if eaten.
- Keep poisonous plants out of reach. Watch for holly and mistletoe berries that fall on the ground, because they are very poisonous if eaten. Other poisonous holiday plants include amaryllis, azalea, boxwood, Christmas rose, Crown of Thorns, English ivy and Jerusalem cherry. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous, but they can cause skin irritation and gastrointestinal distress.
- Avoid using artificial snow sprays to decorate. These sprays can cause lung irritation if inhaled.
Know the Poison Control Center’s national hotline number, 800 222-1222, and keep emergency medical service phone numbers by all telephones. In addition, leave a phone number for babysitters so they can reach you in an emergency.