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County Emergency Services Chief offers holiday safety tips


Last updated 12/19/2019 at 9:50am

With the holiday season in full swing, Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Matthew J. Brown is encouraging county residents to take precautions to ensure they and their families remain safe and injury-free throughout this festive time of year.

Decorations, gifts, home-cooked meals, and parties are hallmarks of the holiday season, but statistics indicate they present risks that can quickly turn a joyous occasion into a devastating one.

“Fires are especially common during the holidays, claiming more than 500 lives, causing more than 2,200 injuries, and costing $554 million in property damage nationally this time of year,” said Mr. Brown. “Candles and Christmas Trees are the main culprits. More than half of the home decoration fires in December are started by candles, and Christmas Tree fires are particularly deadly, as one of out of every 45 results in a death. That’s why it’s imperative that our residents take the necessary steps to protect their loved ones and have a safe and enjoyable holiday season.”

Unattended cooking and unattended open flames (fireplace, grill, candles) are some of the leading causes to fires all year, but especially during the holidays. Here are some tips and reminders to help you reduce risks at home over the next few weeks:


· Place lit candles at least 12 inches away from decorations and other things that can burn and keep them away from areas where they might be knocked or blown over.

· Never leave a burning candle unattended. Do not ignore or forget about these hazards.

· Always use a candleholder that is sturdy, heat resistant, and big enough to collect dripping wax.

· Never move a candle while it’s burning.

· Keep candles, matches, and lighters out of the reach of children.


· When purchasing an artificial tree, choose one that is tested and labeled as fire resistant. Those with built-in electrical systems should have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label.

· When purchasing a natural tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches, and needles don’t break when bent between your fingers. The trunk should be sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree shouldn’t lose many needles.

· When setting up a tree at home, place it at least three feet away from fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, and portable heaters. Make sure it isn’t blocking an exit.

· If using a natural tree, cut off about two inches of the trunk and place it in a sturdy stand. Keep the stand continually filled with water so the tree doesn’t dry out and become a fire hazard.


· Be aware that some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both

· Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections

· Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords don’t get damaged.

· Never use anything with a damaged cord, decoration or extension cord.

· Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord.

· When stringing lights and decorations outside your reach, use a proper ladder with someone supporting the base.

· Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.

· Turn off all lights on trees and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.

· Choose decorations that are flame resistant or retardant.

· In homes with small children, avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, have small removable parts, or resemble candy or food.

· Keep potentially poisonous holiday plants, including mistletoe berries, Jerusalem cherry, and holly berry, away from children.


· Before lighting a fireplace, remove all decorations from the area. Also, check to see that the flue is open.

· Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.

· Do not burn gift wrap paper in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

· Keep a screen in front of the fireplace when a fire is burning.

· If a glass-fronted gas fireplace is used, keep people away from it with a screen or gate. The glass doors can get hot enough to cause serious burns and stay hot long after the fire is out.


· Read instructions and warning labels when choosing toys for children. Make sure the toy is appropriate for your child’s age and development.

· Separate opened gifts by age. Toys intended for older children may contain small pieces, including button batteries, that can pose a risk to curious, younger siblings.

· To prevent both burns and electrical shocks, don’t give children under the age of 10 a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead, buy toys that are battery-operated.

· Remove tags, strings, and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.

· Watch for pull toys with strings that are more than 12 inches in length. They could be a strangulation hazard.

· If you are giving a bike, skateboard, or scooter this holiday season, include a helmet to keep them safe while they’re having fun.

· Remove wrapping papers, bags, paper, ribbons, and bows after gifts are opened. Those items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to small child and can cause a fire if near a flame.


· Fully cook meats and poultry, and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits as bacteria are often present on raw foods. 

· Always keep raw foods and cooked foods separate and use separate utensils when preparing them.

· Always thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave, never on the countertop.

· Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking.

· Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat is cooked at the correct temperature.

· Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

· Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.

· Keep hot liquids and food away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over by young children.

· Wash your hands frequently when handling food.

· Never put a spoon used to taste food back into food without washing it.

· Never cook while sleepy, drinking alcohol or taking medication that makes you drowsy.

· Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop.

· Unplug countertop appliances when not in use.

· Double check that everything is off when you finish.


· Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.

· Ask smokers to smoke outside. Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children don’t touch them.

· Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding

· Clean up immediately after a party. A child could choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco.

· Keep an eye out for spots that might be dangerous to children like unlocked cabinets, unattended purses, accessible cleaning or laundry products, stairways, or hot radiators.

· Keep a list of important phone numbers needed in case of emergency, such as to poison control, and make that list easily accessible.

Activation of a smoke alarm or a visible fire must alert all inside to vacate the building immediately. The contents of today’s structures include many chemical and hydrocarbon hazards that promote rapid and hot fire spread, coupled with toxic smoke that will incapacitate yourself and others in less than three minutes. Get out and call 9-1-1.


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