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Thursday, Oct 25 2012 03:27 PM

Officials warn of Halloween dangers

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County Fire Capt. Eric Coughran watches as a cotton ghost costume goes up in flames during a Halloween safety demonstration at the Olive Drive training facility.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Dressed in her cowgirl Halloween costume, 3-year-old Eden Coughran came to support her daddy, Kern County Fire Capt. Eric Coughran, who was giving a Halloween safety demonstration.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Wearing a toy firefighter helmet, Teresa Coughran, holding son Cole, watches as her husband, Kern County Fire Capt. Eric Coughran, talks about Halloween safety to the media.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    One of the Halloween safety tips Kern County Fire Capt. Eric Coughran offered was that if your children wear masks for the big night, make sure the eyes holes are big enough so their vision won't be obstructed.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

It's supposed to be one of the most fun times of the year for children, a chance to dress up as one of their favorite monsters or cartoon characters and collect bags overflowing with candy.

But Halloween all too often becomes a nightmare that ends with real-life tragedy. Officials are urging parents to be extra careful in not only monitoring what their children eat and the costumes they wear, but also to make sure they're safe while walking through neighborhoods.

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Halloween dangers include the following:

* Trick-or-treating typically takes place at night, and children will be more likely to cross midblock rather than at corners and crosswalks.

* Black costumes can limit the visibility of children to drivers, and children wearing masks may have their vision impaired.

* Adults should avoid giving choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys as treats for young children.

* Adults should inspect all candy before children eat it, and discard treats not packaged in the original wrapper, unwrapped candy, candy with holes in the wrappers or showing evidence of having been rewrapped.

* Adults should practice fire safety when decorating, and not block exits, overload electrical outlets or place candles near walkways or doorways. Adults should use artificial candles to light jack-o-lanterns.

-- Kern County Department of Human Services

But Halloween is the deadliest day of the year for child pedestrian accidents, according to a State Farm news release. A total of 115 child pedestrian deaths occurred nationwide on Halloween over the past 21 years.

That's an average of 5.5 fatalities each year on Oct. 31, more than double the average number of 2.6 fatalities on other days, the news release said. Most of those killed were children ages 12 to 15.

Fire safety should also be a primary concern, and on Thursday Kern County firefighters put on a demonstration showing just how quickly a costume can turn into a ball of flame.

"We want to make sure as kids are out they're safe and come home safe," Fire Capt. Eric Coughran said.

Coughran placed a homemade cotton ghost costume on the side of a burn building at fire department headquarters and then set it aflame. Within seconds flames swooped across the cloth, turning the once white costume black and leaving it a pile of ashes on the ground.

Coughran then set a flame to a store-bought fire retardant costume. The fire was slow to spread, with little pieces of the costume dripping off instead of the entire thing becoming engulfed in fire.

Decorations were next. Coughran set a smaller straw-filled decoration aflame, followed by a larger scarecrow-type outdoor decoration which quickly lost its flannel shirt and overalls to the flames.

Coughran's 3-year-old daughter -- dressed in a pink cowgirl outfit -- was startled enough by the burning costumes that she warned her father about the scarecrow.

"No daddy, don't set it on fire!," Eden Coughran yelled.

Coughran reassured his daughter everything would be all right, and with the precautions taken at the demonstration it was. The point of the demonstration was that if a decoration went up in flames inside a home, the outcome could be a lot worse.

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