Fire fatality reminds us to practice fire safety during holiday season

Published 11:35 am Monday, November 21, 2016

Our View

A young Elizabethton mother and her three-year-old daughter died this week as a result of injuries received in a fire at her apartment.
Preliminary investigation revealed that the fire was the result of a burning candle, which ignited a couch in the downstairs living room.
As the weather gets cooler and Christmas trees are lighted for the holidays, it’s a good time to think about some steps you can take to prevent fires during the colder months, when house fires become more prevalent.
While many of the activities during October’s observance of Fire Prevention Week are targeted toward children, it’s usually grown-ups who need reminders about fire safety.
And there’s no bigger reminder that can keep your family safe from fire than to make sure smoke alarms in your home are working. Research shows that working smoke alarms decrease the risk of dying in a house fire by about 50 percent.
National Fire Protection Association data shows the public has many misconceptions about smoke alarms, such as how old their smoke alarms are and whether they should be replaced.
Battery-operated smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years, according to NFPA, because that is the typical life expectancy of the alarms. You can easily check to see how old your smoke alarm is by looking at the manufacture date on the back of the alarm. While you might have replaced the batteries twice every year — fire departments usually urge doing so at the same time you “spring forward” or “fall back” for Daylight Saving Time — you might not have replaced the alarm itself in many years, if ever. After 10 years, the devices can begin to lose sensitivity, according to the NFPA.
It’s also important to make sure you have a smoke alarm on every level of your home, especially near sleeping areas, because about a quarter of all house fires begin in the bedroom. Make sure to test them every month, too.
There are good reasons to pay so much attention to smoke alarms. According to the National Fire Protection Association, working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a fire in half. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. People living in homes without working smoke alarms in many cases aren’t alerted to fires soon enough to avoid the dangers.
Other than smoke alarms, now is a good time to get your chimney swept and to replace filters in your furnace or heat pump before cold weather arrives. In addition to safeguarding against fires, doing so early can help you avoid headaches of scheduling maintenance appointments or going without a heat source during busy times.
Other key steps include planning and sharing with all family members escape routes in case a fire occurs, avoid the use of space heaters as much as possible and avoid placing them near combustible materials when you must use them, and using extension cords appropriately.
During the Christmas season, most people’s thoughts are more focused on items to put under the tree than what might be going on with the tree itself. But the holiday addition, while beautiful, can increase the risk of fire if not cared for properly.
It’s a safe bet no one wants their tree turning into an unexpected yule log. Fortunately, it’s easy to mitigate the increased risk of fire trees pose.
To be clear, Christmas tree fires are rare. But when they do occur, they’re more likely to cause deaths than other types of home fires. According to nationwide fire department statistics, while one in 142 home fires on average result in the death of one or more occupants, with Christmas tree fires that figure is considerably higher, at about one in 40. Christmas trees catching fire isn’t a surprising phenomenon, when you consider what a tree looks like from a fire prevention standpoint: a large source of fuel draped in low-cost electrical wiring, often festooned with other flammable objects. But there are steps — simple ones — that cut down on that fire risk.
Many tree fires — one in three, on average — are caused by faulty electrical wiring, while one in six stem from having a heat source too close to the tree. To reduce the risk of bad lights setting your tree ablaze, choose strings approved by a certified rating agency, and consider switching to newer, lower-heat LED lights.
Another bonus with LED lights is that they consume considerably less power than traditional bulbs. But to save on power costs and reduce fire danger, it’s a good idea to turn off Christmas lights when going to bed and when leaving the house.
Christmas tree fires are rare, but they can put a major damper on holiday festivities even if extinguished quickly. It’s not hard to guard against accidental blazes, so take a minute or two per day making sure your tree is watered and indoor lights are out when you go to bed or work. It’s a small thing that could help avoid a serious situation.
One fire fatality is one too many. For one family, the holiday season has already been marred by the loss of a life due to a house fire. Preventable, no doubt.
It’s never a wrong time to take steps to protect yourself and your family against a fire

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox