It's the holiday season again — that special time of year when you brighten your home with colorful and twinkling lights. Although decorating with electric lighting helps you create a cheerful atmosphere, it also brings an increased risk of accidental fire.
Each year homes are destroyed and lives are lost due to electrical fires and they are no stranger here in East Meadow.
In 2006, an overloaded extension cord in an East Meadow restaurant caught fire in the middle of the night. If not for the automatic fire alarm, and prompt EMFD response the building could have been destroyed.
In 2007, an extension cord under a bed was the cause of a serious house fire that destroyed the entire second floor before East Meadow firefighters could gain control. EMFD volunteers saved the first floor of the home, which also suffered extensive water damage.
In 2008, East Meadow firefighters were again tested when holiday lighting caught fire at the front of a home engulfing the porch as firefighters turned the corner. As the fire made its way into the attic and first floor, an aggressive assault by EMFD put an end to further spread, and the majority of the home was saved.
These are just two reasons why every homeowner needs to take precaution in their everyday lives. Here are some important safety tips to help you avoid electrical fires, overloaded circuits, and other holiday fire hazards both outside and inside your home.
Always buy lights and electrical decorations bearing the name of an independent testing lab (UL) and follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance.
Never use seasonal lighting outside your home unless it is specifically labeled for outdoor use.
Connect outside lighting to a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupting outlet. If you don't have a GFCI outlet, contact a qualified electrician for proper installation. Never secure the wiring of outdoor lighting with staples or nails or place lights on sharp hooks or nails.
Do not close doors or windows on extension cords or mount lights in any way that can damage the cord's wire insulation. Carefully inspect new and previously used light strings and replace damaged items before plugging lights in. Never overload extension cords.
Keep kids and pets away from light strings and electrical decorations. Unplug all holiday lighting before leaving the house or when going to bed. Make sure the lamps do not rest on the supply cord or on any wire. Avoid covering lights with cloth, paper or any material that is not part of the lighting.
Throw away any lighting that shows cut, damaged or frayed wire insulation or cords. Also discard lights with cracks in lamp holders, loose connections or exposed copper wire.
Virtually all holiday lighting is provided with overload fuse protection. A blown fuse indicates an overload or short-circuit situation. When this occurs, unplug lights from the outlet immediately and replace the blown fuse.
If the replacement fuse blows, a short circuit may be present. Either throw the light string away — or return it to the retailer if new.
Take the lights down when the holidays are over. Seasonal lighting is not intended for permanent installation or use.
Christmas tree safety
When lights are placed on a live tree, be sure your tree is fresh and well maintained. Never purchase a tree with dry or dropping needles.
Keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water every day. Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over. Make sure the tree stand is well secured and stable before putting on the lights. Always use safe tree lights that have been tested by an independent testing laboratory.
Inspect lights carefully. If a string of lights has worn, frayed or broken cords, or loose bulb connections it should not be used. Place the tree at least three feet away from any heat source. Try to position it near an outlet so cords don't have to run long distances. Do not position the Christmas tree where it may block exits.
Never use electric lights on a metal tree. Buy artificial trees only if they are labeled as fire-retardant. Make sure larger tree lights have some type of reflector rather than a bare bulb. Keep an eye on children when they are near the tree and do not let them play with the wiring or lights.
Store matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children. Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Don't keep dried out trees in your home or garage, as they are highly flammable. Never attempt to burn a dried out tree in your home's fireplace. It may burst into hard-to-control flame instantly.
Candle fire — Beauty or a Beast?
The warm glow of holiday candlelight is beautiful, but can be a severe fire hazard. Since December is the peak month for candle fires, put safety first when lighting any holiday candle. Here are a few safety tips to observe. Never use candles to decorate your Christmas tree. Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials. Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep. Don't place candles in windows, where blinds and curtains can close over them. Use sturdy candleholders that won't tip over easily and are large enough to collect dripping wax. Remember, a candle is an open flame and can easily ignite nearby combustible materials, such as clothing, books, paper or any flammable liquid.
Keep candlewicks trimmed to one quarter inch and extinguish taper and pillar candles when they are within two inches of the holder. Votive candles should be put out before the last half-inch of wax starts to melt.
Candles and children
Keep candles up high and out of reach of children. Do not use candles in places where they could be knocked over by children. Never leave a young child unattended in a room with a lighted candle. Don't allow children or teens to have candles in their bedrooms. Store candles, matches and lighters up high — out of children's sight and reach.
Try to avoid carrying a lit candle. Don't use a lit candle when searching for items in a confined space. Never use a candle for a light when checking pilot lights or fueling equipment such as a kerosene heater or lantern. On behalf of the Chief's Office, and all the volunteers of the East Meadow Fire Department, we hope you read this article thoroughly, and do you part in making our town safer during this holiday season. Wishing all of you the happiest of holiday seasons and the most prosperous of New Years.
John J. O'Brien is an active Ex Chief of the East Meadow Fire Department. He is the District Supervisor of the Jericho Fire District and has over 30 years of Dispatch and Supervisory experience.