The holidays can be a joyful time for families, but within an instant, the celebration can be cut short by disasters like residential fires.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments respond to an average of 230 home fires started on Christmas trees each year. Theses fires cause an average of 22 injuries, six deaths and more than $18 million in property damage.
“Safety is a concern throughout the year,” said Capt. Andra M. Hart Sr., the public safety education coordinator at the Hinesville Fire Department. “During the winter, families should be especially cautious to prevent fire hazards in their homes.”
Smoke alarms are the first line of defense against residential fires.
“Thousands of lives every year are saved when a smoke alarm warns occupants of a fire inside of the home,” Hart said. “Smoke alarms should be working properly and placed on every level of the home.”
Smoke alarms should be placed in bedrooms, hallways, living room areas, at the top of stairways and kitchen areas away from the stove. They should be placed 12 inches from the top of the ceiling on the wall, he said.
When shopping for alarms, families can pick from two types. The first option is an ionization smoke alarm.
“This type of alarm works with a small source of radioactive material knows as americium 241,” Hart said. “When smoke enters the smoke alarm chamber, small particles attach themselves to the ions and disrupt the current, which causes the alarm to activate.”
The second type is the photoelectric smoke alarm, which is activated when smoke is able to scatter and disrupt a beam of light inside of the alarm.
Another important alarm used to protect families is the carbon monoxide alarm, Hart said. These should be placed near sleeping areas because they can alert families of a hazard if they are sleeping.
“Additional detectors on every level and in every bedroom of your home provide extra protection against carbon monoxide poisoning,” Hart said.
While carbon monoxide and smoke alarms warn families of danger, preventing a threat is just as important.
“Cooking fires continue to be the primary cause of all residential fires during the winter months,” Hart said. “Never leave unattended food cooking on the stove or oven.”
A cooking lid should be kept nearby when preparing food in case of a fire.
“The lid can be used to smoother the fire,” Hart said. “And make sure not to wear loose clothing while working over hot stove burners.”
Loose sleeves can melt, ignite or catch on the handles of cookware, spilling hot oil and other liquids.
Another contributor to residential fires is the use of alternate sources of home heating, such as wood-burning stoves and space heaters.
Hart advises families to make sure the heater has an emergency shutoff in case the heater is tipped over. Many space heaters come with this function.
Christmas trees should be placed more than 3 feet away from the heater, and parents should keep children away from the space heaters at all times.
These alternate sources of home heating may be more cost efficient, but home fires are more likely when the alternate heat sources are improperly handled.
The Hinesville Fire Department offers public safety education events throughout the year. Families can schedule an event by calling the department at 876-4143.