Earlier in my career, while going through Paramedic school, I witnessed something that stays with me today as a reminder during this season of the year. I was working a round in the Parkland trauma and burn center in Dallas, and a little 6-year old girl came in with third degree burns on much of her body; her father was also admitted for treatment to burns inside both arms, and across the front of his chest.
The burns occurred while the little girl was playing behind the family Christmas tree. For whatever reason, the tree caught fire and trapped her behind the tree, between it and the corner of the room. The father, doing what most any dad would do, rushed in and grabbed his daughter, pulling her from the corner and out from behind the Christmas tree. Even in those few seconds, the damage to both was severe.
Christmas trees can burn with phenomenal intensity, and once ignited the tree burns like a torch. A dry Christmas tree only exacerbates the problem. To see how fast and the intensity to which a dry Christmas tree can burn, check out the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) demonstration at the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr6b9b8FYKk In 30 seconds, the tree is completely engulfed and burning with incredible intensity.
It's no wonder we in the fire service respond to so many fires during the Christmas holidays. According to the NFPA, fire departments in the U.S. respond to an average of 170 home fires per year that start with Christmas trees. Furthermore, one of every 45 of those fires started with Christmas trees results in a fire fatality. That may well be because of the intensity with which a Christmas tree burns. The video clearly shows the potential of all surrounding structural components burning because of the heat generated by the Christmas tree fire. So, remember, if you have a live Christmas tree in your home, WATER THE TREE DAILY!
For additional tips on tree safety, please view this handout from the NFPA.
Christmas tree fires aren't the only thing to consider when it comes to holiday safety. Follow NFPA recommendations and choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant. Keep lit candles away from anything that can burn. Make sure to read manufacturer's instructions and don't connect too many strings of Christmas lights together, overloading outlets and power strips.
No doubt, many of us will be entertaining visiting friends and family members. With all the activities going on around the holidays, it's probably a good time to test your smoke alarms. Be sure to share your home fire escape plan with those you entertain; and, as always, keep the lighters and matches away from children. Holidays with friends and family generally means lots of good food and cooking, another cause for Christmas season fires. Be careful not to leave the kitchen with an open flame on the cooktop - even for a minute. Also, never wear loose clothing while cooking!
For additional tips on decorating and hosting safety, please view this handout from the NFPA.
We wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a coming year full of blessings. Please, don't let the holidays be spoiled for your family due to negligence. Practice safety over the holidays and enjoy the holiday season as it should be enjoyed, in the safe and comforting presence of all your family and friends.
Russell Wilson, Fire Chief
Katy Fire Department
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