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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY DOUG GREENER Contributing columnist
This time of year, I'm more than occasionally accused of being a bit of a Grinch. Water your Christmas tree! Use approved lights! Be careful with candles! It's the nature of being a firefighter, and my duties as the fire chief make me prone to worry (from experience) that the holiday months will bring unnecessary tragedy to someone. Emergencies of any kind can be especially difficult this time of year, and I gently ask that everyone please consider the following BFD holiday safety recommendations.
Christmas trees are the premier holiday season fire hazard, and an almost perfect fire storm in terms of fuel and physical configuration. Christmas trees are a vertical fuel, which supports rapid preheating, and have a branch/needle density that allows an adequate oxygen mix for burning. Fires involving a Christmas tree are often explosive, and an entire room may become involved in fire in less than 30 seconds.
Christmas tree fires account for an average of 240 residential fires each year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, these fires cause an average of 13 deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in damage. The United States Fire Administration cites various studies that indicate residential fires are significantly more severe when Christmas trees are involved, and property damage, injury and fatality in these fires is higher than the national average.
Christmas trees require very special attention. If you choose a live tree, check for a fresh one that is green, with needles that are hard to pull from the branches. The trunk cut of a fresh tree should be sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should lose few needles. Place your tree away from heat sources and escape routes. Remember to water the tree daily, don't leave it up for more than two weeks, and safely dispose of it before it becomes dangerously dry. Safe disposal does not include burning in a residential fireplace ... believe me, that gives new meaning to the "roaring" fire premise.
Holiday and decorative lights are another issue, and according to the National Fire Protection Association cause an average of 150 structure fires, eight deaths, 14 injuries and $8.5 million in property damage each year. Purchase only UL approved lights, check all indoor and outdoor stringers for frayed cords, and replace old lights as necessary. Always check the certification labels to be sure the lights have been certified for either indoor or outdoor use. Turn off all decorative lights before leaving your home or going to bed.
Deep-frying turkeys is very popular, even more so now during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Nationally, there are numerous burn injuries and structure fires related to turkey frying accidents each year, with reports of minor damage and close calls locally as well.
Deep-frying is inherently more dangerous than other turkey cooking methods, and can result in serious injuries and property damage when care is not taken. To reduce the likelihood of accidents, follow these safety rules when deep-frying a turkey:
* Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors away from structures.
* Never use fryers under patio covers, on wooden decks or in garages.
* Use fryers on flat surfaces to reduce the possibility of accidental tipping.
* Never leave the fryer unattended.
* Keep children and pets away from the fryer at all times.
* Do not overfill the fryer -- this may result in a "spill-over" of hot oil.
* Safety goggles and potholders or oven mitts should be worn.
* The turkey must be completely thawed to avoid oil splattering and "boil-over."
* Choose a smaller (10 to 12 pounds) turkey to fry to reduce the potential of overflow.
* Never use water to extinguish a grease fire -- use an all-purpose extinguisher.
The hazards of turkey frying are multi-dimensional, with combustible liquid fires, propane fires, severe contact-burns, and other fire-related problems all possibilities if the appropriate safety precautions are not followed. If a fire does occur, call 9-1-1 immediately to get firefighters on scene as soon as possible.
I encourage everyone to please take extra precaution during the holidays. Although red hats, sooty boots and ringing bells are part of the season, we'd prefer they weren't coming to your home with city firefighters. On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department, I wish everyone a happy and safe 2013 holiday season!
Doug Greener is chief of the Bakersfield Fire Department. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.