As the holidays draw closer, public safety officials are reminding residents of some basic guidelines that can help ensure a safe and happy season.
“Just a little bit of preparation can make the holiday season joyous,” said Fire Marshal Alan Carter, with the Cape Coral Fire Department.
Nationwide, fire departments annually responded to an average of about 260 home structure fires from 2004 to 2008 that started with Christmas trees. The result was an average of 14 deaths and 26 injuries and $13.78 million in damage per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“Typically, December is a busy fire month for us,” Carter said.
Fresh-cut Christmas trees should be watered and checked daily. Position trees at least 3 feet away from space heaters, fireplaces and other heat sources. When decorating, check for exposed or frayed wires, and do not overload extension cords and electrical outlets.
When buying an artificial tree, look for the “fire resistant” label.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, one out of every 12 reported home structure fires caused by a Christmas tree results in death. Thirty-six percent started by the trees occur between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2.
“That’s probably due to, as the tree gets older, it starts to dry out more,” Carter said.
Only use indoor lights indoors and outdoor lights outdoors. Do not use real candles as Christmas tree decorations, and blow out candles when they are no longer being used. Do not leave candles unattended. Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
“Never leave a lighted Christmas tree or decorations unattended,” he said. “If you leave the home, be sure to unplug all of the lights and decorations.”
As family and friends gather for the holidays, cooking in commonplace. The No. 1 leading cause of fires in the United States is unattended cooking. As the fires normally start on the stove top, do not leave pots unattended.
“Stay in and around that area,” Carter said.
Have a child-free safe zone around the stove. A perimeter of at least 3 feet will keep hot pots and pans, and the cooking foods and liquids in them, out of reach. Be prepared to deal with a cooking fire by always having a lid nearby.
“Never put water on a grease fire,” he said.
If a fire does occur, call 911 and get everyone out of the home.
“Remember to think of fire safety as one of the best gifts you can give to your family and friends when you entertain this holiday season,” Carter said.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office pointed out that with the holiday season comes holiday shopping and the potential for shopper to become a victim of a related crime. Officials recommend that people shop with a family member or friend and avoid parking in poorly lighted areas when shopping at night.
Lock packages and gifts in the truck and keep all vehicle doors locked and windows closed.
Shoppers should not overburden themselves with packages. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and pay for purchases with a check, credit card or debit card when possible.
When walking to and from their vehicles, people should be aware of their surroundings and make eye contact with others. Carry purses under the arm and keep wallets in an inside jacket pocket, not a back trouser pocket, or use a large thick rubber bank to prevent pick pocketing.
If shoppers observe suspicious activity, they should notify security or a store manager or contact law enforcement immediately.
LCSO officials noted that there also are a few ways to prevent crimes at home. Do not display holiday gifts where they can be seen from a window or doorway, and store gifts before going away on a trip.
Be wary of strangers soliciting for charitable donations and do not open the door to strangers.
Residents who take a holiday trip should have interior lights activated by an automatic timer. Have a neighbor, family member or friend watch the house, pick up the mail and newspaper, and occasionally park a motor vehicle in the driveway.
Avoid leaving boxes from purchases, especially televisions, computers and Blu-Ray players, out of the curb for trash pick-up. At the very least fold the boxes so the product labels do not show. Put boxes inside of a garbage can.
Citizens also are urged to check their smoke alarms and have at least one alarm and one carbon monoxide detector on each story of a home and close by each bedroom. Review the family fire plan with relatives and visitors and make sure all exits from the home are clear. Each room should have two.