Think Health And Safety This Holiday Season
By Paul Forsberg MBA, CFOD, MFIRE, Fire Chief City of Melbourne // December 20, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA– The holiday season is upon us and the time is usually filled with joy. However, each year many families experience great sadness because of loss of possessions, injuries, or even death. Many of these problems are caused by our hectic lives and not concentrating on tasks at hand. It’s important to be alert to holiday safety hazards in three areas: fires, illness, and injuries.
Prevent Holiday Fires
Fires, which destroy property and cause life threatening burns, can be caused by many sources. Candles can create a lovely ambiance in your home, but they also may raise your risk of fire.
When using candles, place them in a position where the flames will not reach other combustible items (paper, cloth or anything that will burn), including windblown combustibles such as window curtains. Place candles out of the reach of children and pets, making sure that they will not get knocked over accidently. Also, do not leave candles burning unattended, especially when you leave the house. Battery operated candles are a safe alternative to flame candles. They can be used in any area of the house and pose no threat for fire.
Use Electricity Properly
Those of us who have weathered many hurricanes over the years know what a blessing electricity is. However, another source of fire is from improper use of electricity.
Electrical circuits in your house are designed for a specific load. Do not overload the outlets by plugging too many electrical cords into one outlet or by plugging too many extension cords together (e.g. stringing too many holiday lights together). Electrical outlets and extension cords can overheat and potentially start a fire. Remember too that bypassing grounded electrical cords (3-prong) can increase your shock hazard.
Beware Multiple Holiday Hazards
A deep fried turkey can be a delicious holiday meal, but also, it can be hazardous to cook. Many people are seriously burned when using a deep fryer to prepare their turkey dinner. To prevent serious injury, follow these steps: First, always deep fry the turkey outdoors using a completely thawed turkey. Water in/on the turkey can cause the hot oil to splatter or boil over. Make sure that gas powered fryers are turned off before lowering the turkey slowly into the hot oil. Using leather gloves may protect against burns.
Live Christmas trees, although beautiful and fragrant, may pose a fire hazard. Eventually, live trees dry out and can catch fire very easily when exposed to heat or flames. The dry needles are easily ignited by electrical shorts, decorative lights, candles, or any other flame producing items including smoking materials (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, matches, etc.). To delay the tree drying out, cut a small portion off the trunk, and place in water. Keep the tree supplied with fresh water until you take it down after the holidays.
Fireplaces and chimneys remind many of us of holidays past in cold weather. Embers or sparks may ignite combustibles that get too close to the fireplace or chimney. Use of a fire screen will help prevent sparks from escaping. It is also important to keep combustibles away from the fire place so that the heat does not ignite them.
Prevention Is Key
It’s always a good idea to put fresh batteries in your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detectors every fall and spring when we change our clocks to/from daylight savings time. However, if you haven’t already done this, change your batteries when you begin holiday decorating. Prevention is always best where fire is concerned, but if a fire breaks out or carbon monoxide builds up in your home, early warning from a working detector can save your life.
Be Ever Vigilant With Fireworks
On New Year’s Eve many people celebrate the New Year by setting off fireworks. Florida State Statutes prohibit the use of fireworks that go up in the air or explode.
Fireworks such as bottle rockets may land on your roof or your neighbor’s roof and start a fire, or land in some other inopportune place (e.g. on your car). In addition, hot fireworks may end up in dry brush, creating a brush fire which may endanger your home. Fireworks that explode may cause the loss of an eye or fingers. Even approved sparklers may cause burn injuries or fires, if not used properly. Children should always be supervised when near any type of fireworks.
Careful On Ladders
Injuries are another concern during the holidays. Fall injuries occur frequently when we are busy rushing around, not paying attention to where we are walking, especially when carrying armfuls of packages. Using ladders to string lights and hang decorations also provides the opportunity for falls. In addition, cords and wires used in holiday decorations may pose a tripping hazard.
‘Chill’ During The Holidays
The Holiday season can be stressful, putting an individual at risk for developing an illness or aggravating a chronic illness. The use of candles, fireplaces etc. can cause breathing problems in people with existing lung problems.
Eating the wrong foods, overeating, not exercising, and stress can aggravate illnesses. With the holidays being a very busy time, you may forget to take your medications. Try to keep your stress in check by being realistic with your holiday expectations.
Slow down and enjoy the repast of the holiday table. Eating while talking and/or laughing can provide an opportunity for food to become caught in the throat causing a choking hazard.
Childproof Your Home
The holidays are a family time, and what family occasion does not include children. During the holidays, there are many interesting and hazardous items around the house, plus lots of activity. Therefore, children may eat small items and choke, or wander into the swimming pool and drown.
Houses should be made child proof including the locking of cabinets and putting medications out of reach. There are many household cleaners and chemicals that are poisonous. Chemical hazards can be found in the garage, under the sinks, and in bathroom cabinets. Don’t forget to keep your purse out of reach especially if you carry medications in your purse. Adults need to keep a vigilant eye on their children so that children do not get curious or underfoot. If this happens in the kitchen, there may be burn injuries from cooking accidents.
Let’s Not Forget Our Pets
Pets will be curious about all the new items in their environment. There are many things that can be harmful to your pet that we would not think twice about.
Pets can get into the water for the Christmas tree, chew on wires, decorations, tinsel, ornament hooks, gifts, food, and even plants. Pets can have severe reactions if they eat certain plants such as poinsettias and mistletoe. Even human food such as chocolate, alcohol, raisins and onions can be dangerous to pets.
Make Merry, But Be Smart
Any article on holiday safety would be remiss if there wasn’t a reminder not to Drink and Drive. If you are planning on drinking at holiday parties, plan ahead of time to go to the party with a designated driver, or have someone to call to drive you home. Even one drink can put you at risk of injuring yourself and others when behind the wheel.
Follow these tips to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you would like more information, here are a few Internet sites you may want to use. Keep safe, and enjoy the holidays with your family and friends!!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Forsberg MBA, CFOD, MFIRE is the Fire Chief for the City of Melbourne. Paul has 39 years experience in the fire service. Prior to coming to Melbourne, Paul worked for Tamarac Fire Rescue in Broward County, Florida for twenty five years progressing through the ranks to Assistant Fire Chief. Paul has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science from Florida International University, an MBA from Florida Atlantic University, and has also graduated from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. His wife, Sally, a registered nurse, is Director of Quality and Safety at the Florida Hospital Association.