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Holiday Fire Safety
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By Assistant Chief Keith Grierson
December 21, 2021

When you’re decorating your home for the holidays, electrical safety usually isn’t the first thing on your mind. But it’s important to make sure your electrical decorations are safe for your home and don’t pose a fire hazard. Broken wires, improper hanging methods, and overloading outlets can cause problems. According to the ESFI (Electrical Safety Foundation International), 25% of holiday fires are caused by decorations. That’s about 860 home fires. Don’t let your home be one of them. The Skippack Fire Company wants to make sure your season stays merry, not scary, so we’ve made a list and we’d like you to check it twice. Follow these easy safety tips to keep your home and loved ones safe.

Hanging Decorations and Strands of Lights
The holidays are hectic but don’t use that as an excuse to cut corners when decorating. Follow these rules and be safe:

Inspect Electrical Decorations for Damage
Cracked or damaged sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections can cause a serious shock or start a fire. Take the time to inspect it all.

Never Connect More Than Three Strands of Incandescent Lights
More than three strands may not only blow a fuse but can also cause a fire. You can connect eight to ten times more mini LED light strings together end to end while only using one electrical outlet. With traditional Christmas mini lights, you can only connect four to five sets, end to end. LED mini light strings to allow you to connect 40 to 50 together, depending on the light count.

TIP: You may want to update your lights to LEDs. They produce considerably less heat and use less electricity too.
Watch Bulb Placement

Look for Certification Labels
Decorations not bearing a label from an independent testing laboratory have not been tested for safety and could be hazardous. Look for Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or Intertek (ETL). If you don’t see the label, don’t assume it’s safe to use.

Only Use Outdoor Rated Extension Cord Outside
If using outside, make sure to check that it is labeled for outdoor use.

Power Lines Can Be Fatal
If you are using a ladder to put up decorations, or when you’re hanging lights or decorations on trees outside, watch for overhead power lines. Know where they are before you start.

Always Turn Off Decorations When Going to Bed or Leaving Home
According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), half of all home fire deaths occur between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am. Don’t be a statistic.

Outlet Safety
We know it can be difficult, but try not to plug too many holiday decorations into your outlets. Also, make sure your outlets are GFCI in the kitchen, bathrooms, and outside.

Inspect Outlets before Using
If the outlet shows any signs of damage, such as black lines where the plug enters or sparks when you plug something in, don’t use that outlet and have a professional electrician inspect it.

Do Not Overload Electrical Outlets
Avoid plugging too many lights and decorations into an outlet. Overloaded circuits can overheat and start a fire. Read the package instructions, and never exceed the recommended wattage.

TIP: Circuits that frequently trip can indicate too many items are connected to the circuit.

Use GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) Outlets Outdoors
A GFCI outlet is designed to cut off the electricity when it senses an imbalance between the outgoing and incoming current. It keeps people from being electrocuted. They are recommended for outlets near water including outdoors and in bathrooms and kitchens. You can tell if yours are GFCI outlets by looking for the reset button (usually red) on the outlet.

Use Battery-Operated Candles
Open flame candles start almost half of home decoration fires according to the NFPA. Battery-operated candles have no wires to be plugged in or hazardous open flames.

Extension Cord Safety Tips
About 3,300 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 others. In addition, 4,000 people a year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries associated with extension cords. Not all injuries due to extension cords are electrical. Half of them involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains as a result of people tripping over the cords. Follow these rules for using extension cords.

Inspect the Cord
Look for cracks, loose connections at the ends, or damaged coverings, and loose or bare wires. Throw away any cords that are in poor condition.
Check for Indoor/Outdoor Rating
If using outside, make sure the extension cord is labeled for outdoor use.
Use GFCI-Protected Outlets
Plug outdoor electrical decorations into GFCI-protected outlets to prevent shock.
Protect Cords from Damage
To avoid shock or fire hazards, cords should never be smashed by furniture, forced into small spaces such as doors and windows where they can be pinched, placed under rugs, located near heat sources, or attached by nails or staples.
Watch Out for Water
Keep outdoor connections aboveground and out of puddles.
Don’t Stretch Extension Cords over Walkways
This can cause a tripping hazard. It’s best to run extension cords alongside walkways when possible.

Other Common Hazards

Space Heaters
Space heaters result in far more fires than central furnaces. Never leave one unattended or around pets or children without supervision. Make sure it is not near carpets, rugs, drapery, bedding, or anything else flammable.

Carbon Monoxide
This is one of the most preventable hazards. Install a CO detector in your home today. They are inexpensive and plug right into a wall outlet. It can save your life!

Finally, do not take batteries from your smoke detector for new toys. Plan ahead and pick up the needed batteries before packages are opened.

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