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12 holiday safety tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI)

If your department is like most, you’re busier than ever during the winter holidays. With all the cooking, entertaining, decorating and distraction, the holidays are too often memorable for the wrong reasons: home fires.

In fact, nearly 900 people die in winter home fires each year (USFA). Some 30% of all home fires and 38% of home fire deaths take place from December through February, reports the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

What can you do to make your jurisdiction safer this winter? Start by making sure residents have the facts about holiday fire dangers and the steps they can take to prevent them. To help out, ESFI is offering new resources that will simplify your fire safety outreach, including a fun (but informative!) video and an illustrated flyer. Download the FREE tools here: 12 Holiday Safety Tips

ESFI encourages you to post its holiday safety information on your department website and share it via social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. The more you share, the merrier the holidays will be for all!

1. Don’t let the holidays zap your energy. Not to shock you, but it’s crucial to keep your hands dry (and avoid standing in water) when touching decorations, gifts or other gadgets powered by electricity. You should install ground-fault circuit interrupters anywhere inside or outside water and electricity may come in contact.

2. Sleep tight, but electronics-free. Lying down for a long winter’s nap? Stash cordless and corded appliances elsewhere to rule out overheating. A hot phone under a sack of feathers could spell disaster.

3. Install tamper-resistant receptacles. These electric outlets feature internal shutters that keep curious children from inserting objects.

4. Enjoy (but monitor) the warmth of the season. Space heaters come in handy for banishing winter chill, but they can overheat, spark, tip over and/or ignite combustibles such as wadded-up giftwrap if not used correctly. Turn them off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

5. Get that holiday glow. Instead of the open-flame candles that inadvertently spark holiday décor each year, consider battery-operated candles. Remember to blow out candles when you leave the room.

6. Best gift for your family is to upgrade to Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter breakers or outlets. This smart technology temporarily disables circuits when detecting potentially dangerous electric leaks. It’s estimated that half of electrical fires that occur every year could be prevented by AFCIs. All upgrades should be completed by a qualified electrician.

7. Avoid getting frazzled. Worn-cord warning: Avoid pinching electric cords between windows, rugs, carpets or furniture, since that can wear them down and possibly cause overheating and ignition.

8. Even outlets experience holiday stress. Multi-outlet power strips and extension cords are handy for decorations, phones, cooking gear and new gift gadgetry, but plugging in too many things can over-tax your home’s electrical capacity. Never use an extension cord or power strip for heaters, as this could cause cords to overheat and result in a fire.

9. Decorate wisely. Consider fire hazards before draping that garland over a fireplace mantle, plugging in the frayed cord that lights up your vintage Santa or arranging pine wreaths around your candles. Check decorations for safety listing labels and never connect more than three strings of lights.

10. Give lit decorations a holiday break. Reduce the likelihood of fire by simply shutting everything off when there’s no one home (or awake) to enjoy them. Half of home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., reports the NFPA.

11. Be busy as an elf about damage control. When decorating, check for loose or bare wires, cracked or damaged sockets, wobbly connections, broken or sharp edges and other hazards. And it may be time to toss that cheesy 1970s version of St. Nick.

12. More Christmas tree, more water. If you put up a real tree, make sure you water it daily. A dried-up pine tree is nothing but kindling. And an unfortunate 260 home fires in the U.S. start with Christmas trees each year, on average.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International wishes your fire department, and your entire community a safe, warm and happy holiday.

12 EFSI holiday safety tips

Originally published on Dec. 12, 2018, this article has been updated