By Ryan Lang, American Red Cross board member and volunteer
Nothing ties the holidays together quite like decorations. Between the lighted trees, the stockings hung by the chimney with care, and the 20-foot inflatable Santa in the front yard, holiday décor has gotten more elaborate.
Even if you’re not going all Clark Griswold with “250 strands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand, for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights,” it’s important to play it safe.
The American Red Cross offers these steps you can take to deck your halls safely:
Check all holiday light cords to ensure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together — no more than three per extension cord.
Turn off all holiday lights when going to bed or leaving the house.
Ensure outside decorations are for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If using hooks or nails outside, make sure they are insulated to avoid an electrocution or fire hazard.
If buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label. When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat. Never use electric lights on metallic trees.
If getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and keep it watered. To test if the tree is fresh, bend the needles up and down to make sure no needles fall off.
Don’t light the fireplace if hanging stockings or other decorations on the mantel.
Check the labels of older decorations. Some older tinsel is lead-based. If using angel hair, wear gloves to avoid irritation. Avoid breathing in artificial snow.
If using a ladder, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.
Additionally, if you use traditional candles, keep flammable items, including curtains and holiday decorations, at least 3 feet away from your candles. Keep your menorah or kinara on a non-flammable surface to catch the melting candle wax, such as a tray lined with aluminum foil. Never leave lit candles unattended.
When I was young, I visited the home of an elderly Finnish couple. I remember the heavenly aroma of special cookies baking for the upcoming Christmas holiday.
But my most vivid memory of that visit was of an unfinished wooden frame in the shape of a Christmas tree with delicate straw ornaments and real candles burning!
I asked my dad why we didn’t have real candles on our tree. He immediately dismissed the idea as “too dangerous.” Boy, was he right: According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles cause an average 20 home fires a day in the U.S., and these emergencies peak in December and January.
The American Red Cross suggests that if you’re decorating with candles this holiday season, consider using the battery-operated kind. They’re flameless, many are scented and they come in a variety of styles, from votives and pillars to tapers for windowsills and the dining table. If you must use real candles, keep them away from anything that could burn and out of reach of pets and children. Never leave burning candles unattended.
The Red Cross offers other steps you can take to be sure you and your family enjoy the holidays safely: – Check all light cords to ensure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together – no more than three per extension cord. – Turn off all holiday lights – including window candles – when going to bed or leaving the house. – Be sure outside decorations are labeled for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If you’re using hooks or nails outside, make sure they’re insulated to avoid an electrocution or fire hazard. – If you’re buying an artificial tree, look for a fire-resistant label. When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat. Never use electric lights on metallic trees. – If you’re getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh – and keep it watered. To test if the tree is fresh, bend the needles up and down to make sure needles aren’t falling off. – Clear the mantel of stockings and other dangling decorations before lighting a fireplace. – Check the labels on older decorations. Some older tinsel is lead-based. If using angel hair, wear gloves to avoid irritation. Avoid breathing in artificial snow. – If you’re using a ladder to hang the mistletoe or place a tree-topper, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.
The Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters a year – and the majority are home fires. Home fires claim seven lives a day in the U.S., but working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. This is a good time to test your smoke alarms and practice your home fire escape plan until everyone can get out in less than two minutes: That’s how long you may have to leave a burning home before it’s too late.
If you’re looking for a gift for that someone “who has everything,” how about a new smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector, fire extinguisher or emergency escape ladder?
How about a donation in that person’s name to the American Red Cross, to support activities that help prepare for, prevent and respond to disasters down the street, across the country and around the world? To make a donation, visit here.