Posted in Holiday Safety

How to #BeSafe this Holiday Season

Part 1 of a 3-part series

Holiday Safety 2014cAccording to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, home holiday decorations cause more than 400 holiday fires each year, resulting in $15 million in property loss and damage. Nothing is as sad as a news story about a child dying in a Christmas tree fire or a father falling off of a ladder while decorating the exterior of his home. As our holiday gift to you, we would like to offer some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season.

This week, we will look at safe practices for choosing, displaying and decorating Christmas trees as well as working with holiday paper. Next week, we will feature a guest blogger, whose entry will cover holiday workplace safety, basic safety rules and home safety guidelines. Finally, we will conclude our three-week series by focusing on holiday travel, shopping and cooking.

Holiday Safety for 2014

Christmas Trees

Choosing your tree

  • Many artificial trees are fire resistant. If you choose to go with a fake tree, choose one that is rated as such.
  • If you decide to go with a live tree, freshness is key. A newly cut tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree…not to mention it will look nicer than one that is dead and brown.
  • To check for freshness, remember that a fresh tree is green, and fresh needles are hard to pull from branches. They also do not give when bent between your fingers.
  • When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is too dry. Keep looking.
  • The trunk of a freshly harvested tree should be sticky with resin.
  • I advise keeping lots of water in your tree bucket. Dogs like to drink from it…though (for safety), we really shouldn’t.

holiday safety 2014eDisplaying your tree

  • Before deciding where to put your tree, think about more than whether it is located near a picture window. Instead, make sure you choose a place in your home that is clear of all sources of heat including fireplaces, radiators and lamps. You might also want to consider where it won’t tempt your pet, since we tend to consider Christmas trees indoor plumbing!
  • Heated rooms dry out trees rapidly, creating fire hazards. So make sure your home remains relatively cool. But use common sense. If you’re cold, the tree probably will be too. It is alive, after all…if you choose a live one instead of a plastic fake version.
  • When prepping the tree, cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for sufficient water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set your tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide spread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors. And this isn’t just so Fido has another cool water option. It’s actually to keep the tree alive as long as possible.
  • Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. If necessary, use thin guide-wires to secure a large tree to walls or ceiling. These wires are nearly invisible but will keep the tree safe even in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.


  • Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. If you like the look of a flocked tree, just make sure you avoid potential injury by reading container labels and carefully following directions. I’m not one for flocked trees. They block the fresh pine scent.
  • Interior Lighting. Use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the label from an independent testing laboratory.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using. Lights are so cheap these days, you can afford to pitch them and start from scratch instead of looking for a single burnt out bulb to replace.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house, walls or other firm support to protect from wind damage.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. If they are not properly displayed, lights could short and start a fire. It might be tempting to leave them on. But resist the urge. Safety first!
  • Use colored spotlights above or beside a tree instead of fastened onto it.
  • Keep “bubbling” lights away from children. The bright colors and bubbling movement could tempt curious children to break the light, leaking poisonous liquid and posing an electrical hazard. I’ve never seen bubbling lights. But they sounds scary.

Wrapping-related Safety

  • If you decide to make paper decorations, choose papers, glitter and adhesives that are not flammable. Or, better yet, encourage the kiddos to work with something other than paper if they plan to hang it from the tree.
  • Don’t place trimming near open flames or electrical connections.
  • Remove all wrapping papers from tree and fireplace areas immediately after presents are opened. This is particularly important during parties and Christmas morning, when distractions abound.
  • Do not ever burn papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely

Next week, check back, as we will continue our three-week series about holiday safety. We hope that this blog post will help inform you about ways to #BESAFE this holiday season, and always, by taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety, Fires, Safety at Home

Holiday Decorating Tips Part 2

Winter in a city. Vector

Part 2 of a 2-Part Series

While it may not be as much to think about holiday safety as it is to go Christmas shopping, it’s imperative that you take time to consider how to make the season as safe as possible. As we discussed in our RJW Training System blog post last week, according to FEMA, the holidays pose serious fire hazards:

  1. In December, 72% of structure fires occur in residential buildings.
  2. The use of traditional adornments such as Christmas trees and decorations provide additional points of igni­tion that increase the incidence of holiday fires.
  3. The leading cause of December residential building-structure fires involve cooking.
  4. Santa could fall right onto open flames in your fireplace if you aren’t careful.

To help make holiday fire-prevention easy, the professionals at RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services have assembled a few tips to help you and your friends, family, and colleagues BE SAFE this holiday season. Last week, we covered safety relative to decorating. This week, we will focus on safely lighting fires, holiday wrapping and (my personal favorite) cooking.


  • Clean your chimney or hire a professional to remove soot and ash.
  • Before lighting a fire move greens, boughs, papers, ribbons and other decorations far away from the hearth.
  • Open the flue.
  • Make sure a screen covers the fireplace anytime a fire is burning.
  • Be careful when using fire salts, which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. These salts contain heavy metals which could cause intense gastrointestinal irritation or vomiting if eaten. So make sure they are stored well out of reach of children and pets.
  • If you decide to roast marshmallows inside, invest in a tabletop Sterno stove made especially for the purpose, instead of roasting over an open gas flame. Or maybe you could just skip the marshmallow roasting altogether and stick to roasting meat. Just a suggestion.

Wrapping Paper and Bows

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.
  • In homes with small children and/or pets, avoid package decorations that are sharp or breakable.
  • Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food. A child or dog could eat them!
  • If you opt to make paper decorations, use materials labeled non-combustible or flame-resistant.
  • Don’t place wrapping paper, tape or ribbons near open flames or electrical connections.
  • Store wrapping paper far from the Christmas tree and fireplace. This is particularly important immediately after unwrapping gifts, when adrenaline is high.
  • Resist the temptation to burn used wrapping paper in the fireplace. Colorful paper and cardboard boxes often contain toxic chemicals. What’s more, a flash fire could start if wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
  • Keep anyone who smokes far from flammable decorations. Or you could even keep smokers far away from your holiday get-together altogether. But that’s your call.
  • Keep matches, lighters, and candles out of the reach of children and canines.


Your stovetop and oven are probably busier than usual during the holidays. So, whether you are making potato latkes, homemade beef jerky, or baking Santa-shaped cookies, take steps to ensure safety. FEMA recommends “choosing the right equipment and using it properly,” as well as:

  • Using cooking equipment tested and approved by a recognized testing facility.
  • Following manufacturers’ instructions and code requirements when installing and operating cooking equipment.
  • Plugging microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into wall outlets. Don’t use an extension cord for a cooking appliance as it could overload circuitry and start a fire.
  • Make a lot more food than you think you’ll need. Your pets will be glad to help you cut down on overages.

Another important holiday cooking reminder is to practice safe food-handling habits to keep every one of your guests healthy and happy:

  • When transporting food items from the grocery store to your home, pack cold items in ice if you’ll be on the road longer than 15 minutes. When it doubt, give it to your pooch.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before preparing food
  • Scrub food-contact surfaces often.
  • Use one color sponge for cleaning dishes and another for wiping sinks and surfaces.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, knives and counter tops with hot soapy water after each use.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate by allowing bacteria to move from one food product to another. This is especially important for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Keep raw meats and their juices far from ready-to-eat foods such as uncooked fruits and vegetables. Or just skip vegetables altogether and stick strictly with steak, bacon and pork chops.
  • Cook foods to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate foods promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40ºF.
  • Keep your freezer set at 0ºF. Regularly check the accuracy of the settings with a thermometer.
  • For additional food-related safety tips, check out the FEMA Holiday Cooking resources.

Plan for Safety

  • Remember, there is no substitute for common sense. Keep your eyes peeled for potential hazards and eliminate possible danger spots near candles, fireplaces, trees, and/or electrical connections.
  • Make an emergency plan to use if a fire breaks out anywhere in the home. See to it that each family member knows what to do. PRACTICE THE PLAN!
  • Have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, check out the RJWestmore Training System by Universal/Fire Life Safety Services. Our new Version 3.0 system offers the best emergency training system on the market.