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Staying safe this holiday season


December 18, 2013
There's plenty to celebrate about Christmas and New Years: good food, family, and some much-needed time off work. However, the holiday season also carries with it an increased risk of fire emergencies, making it all the more important to remember how to keep your family safe while you're celebrating.

George Lucia, fire marshal for the Valley Center Fire Protection District, reminds us of some of the extra things we need to consider this time of year.

"We go into the holidays and you think a little bit about what we do: we cook big meals, we have lots of company, we put up decorations, we tax the existing electrical system with outside lights and inside lights, we light candles, we party — they're all contributors to a disaster if a fire starts, because the activity is way up," says Lucia. "We need to be just very cautious."

One crucial aspect of fire safety is good housekeeping. All the extra clutter that goes into holiday decorating can quickly become a fire hazard. Lucia advises that exits always be kept clear of obstructions, candles need to be extinguished if you leave the room, and trees should not be placed next to stairs in the event that it catches fire and traps people upstairs.

Lucia favors artificial Christmas trees because they are safer, but if you do get a real tree make sure to place it away from fireplaces or any other sources of heat. Picking a fresh, healthy tree is key, but it's also very important to dispose of the tree once it begins showing signs of dryness.

"As soon as you can bang them on the ground or tap them and the needles start to fall, it's time to take it down, I don't care if it's Christmas Eve of New Year's Eve, and get it to the outside," says Lucia. EDCO disposal will be hosting a tree recycling center in the Valley Center Elementary School parking lot from Dec. 26 until Jan. 12 where you can safely dispose of your tree. Make sure all ornaments and decorations have been removed before recycling your tree.

Modern LED lights are a safe bet to put up inside and outside your house, but make sure there are no frayed wires or cords that may create a trip hazard. Ensure all electrical connections are waterproof and take extra caution when climbing ladders to hang lights in those hard-to-reach spots.

Fireplaces are another popular holiday tradition, but they also carry the danger of a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Over the course of the year, animals may have built a nest in the flue or creosote build-up may prevent the chimney from ventilating properly, so it's essential to clean your chimney or hire a certified chimney sweep.

"They need to be checked, they need to be maintained, they're just like any other machine," says Lucia. Even if a chimney fire goes out on its own, you should still call 911 in case any stray embers make their way into the attic. Burn hard woods and seasoned woods instead of creosote-based pines, and if you use wax logs to start a fire, make sure you burn them one at a time, without other wood in the fireplace.

When New Year's Eve rolls around, remember that fireworks are illegal in San Diego County and fire marshals and sheriffs have "zero tolerance" for their use, says Lucia. Shooting firearms into the air is another ill-advised New Year's tradition that is both illegal and dangerous.

As always, being prepared is the best way to prevent fire-related disasters. Check the batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and make sure there is one in every bedroom and on every level of your house.

"I think it's the most important thing people can do right now, is to have that early warning so they can get out," says Lucia.

Finally, sit down with all the members of your household and discuss your emergency plans. How do you get out of the house? Where do you meet? Who calls 911? These may seem like simple steps, but a little foresight can make all the difference in the world.

"Don't wait until the emergency happens and try and figure out what to do," says Lucia. "Think about what you would do tonight if there was a hazard." Whether you are at home, at work, at the mall, or at the movie theater, being aware of your surroundings and your route to safety is crucial, especially during this hectic time of year.

Call 911 immediately in the event of an emergency, even if you think you have the situation under control. It never hurts to brush up on basic first aid techniques such as chest compressions, but calling for help should always be the first step.

For further safety queries, contact the VCFPD for information about home inspections at 760-751-7600.

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