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  • Hazel Hawkes

'Tis the Season for Fire Safety

More than 80,000 people a year need hospital treatment for injuries such as falls, cuts and burns and you are 50% more likely to die in a house fire during the festive season so here are some Elf and Safety tips on how to prevent a fire in your house this holiday season.

Trees

Whilst it can be wonderful to have the smell of a live Christmas tree in your home, it can be dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions. First of all, you need to make sure that the tree is fresh - if the needles are not green or are falling off easily it is likely that the tree is quite old and drying out, which makes it more of a fire hazard. Once you have found yourself a freshly cut tree make sure that it is watered daily - with any lights on it switched off - so it doesn't dry out. A 6ft tree will take in about 2 pints of water a day so the best practice would be to stand your tree in a regularly topped up bucket of water so they have constant access and you don't have to remember to pour some in every day. Additionally, try to ensure that the lights you put on the tree are safe and that it is nowhere near candles to reduce the risk of fire further.

If you aren't using a real tree make sure that the artificial one you have is fire retardant - it won't stop a fire but it will slow it down significantly.

Lights

Fairy lights are one of the most common decorations at this time of year but if poorly maintained they can be some of the most hazardous. Here are the four most important things to consider when putting up Christmas lights:

Age: it is a common occurrence that people have a box of decorations in the loft that have been there for as long as they can remember and a large portion of them haven't been updated. Whilst this isn't a problem for tinsel or baubles, for lights this can be a serious problem. Old or outdated lights can be electrically unsafe or faulty so if they are showing signs of wear or you cannot figure out just how long you have had them it is probably time to buy a new set that comply with contemporary safety regulations.

Condition: It is important to check the condition of your lights because they are generally on for a long time which can cause overheating and, if they are not in good condition, they could shatter or break. Additionally, damaged or frayed cords can lead to electrical shorts or electrical shocks which can cause serious burns. Pets and wild animals can also cause damage to lights with teeth or claws which can not only give them an electrical shock it can cause new issues over the holiday period while they are up, so check them frequently. If your lights are damaged, throw them away.

Location: Avoid hanging lights near potential fire hazards such as candles, heaters, or fireplaces and avoid having the bulbs near flammable materials. Additionally, indoor lights are specifically for indoors and should state this quite clearly on the packaging. Whilst outdoor lights can be used indoors the same is NOT true the other way round as indoor lights do not have the same weather proofing that the outdoor ones do.

Finally, never leave them on unattended or overnight - if you are forgetful invest in a timer switch so they will automatically turn off.

Decorations

Quite a lot of decorations are paper or a paper like material that is equally as flammable. For this reason we recommend not putting them anywhere near light or heat sources because if something were to go wrong the papery decorations would go up in seconds. Additionally, do not hang cards or paper decorations around your fireplace as there is a significant ignition risk - if a stray ember were to get out of the fireplace it is best that there isn't fuel hanging all around.

Candles

Candles can be beautiful and create a very pleasant, even magical, atmosphere but candles and log fires are usually the biggest cause of house fires over Christmas. Therefore, it is safer to use battery operated flames which can give the effect of a wax candle without the added danger. However, if you do choose to use a wax candle here is some advice on how to stay safe with them:

  • Keep all candles away from your Christmas tree, curtains or any other fabrics or surfaces that could easily catch fire - this includes hair and clothing.

  • Candles should be in a fire-resistant holder, on an even heat resistant surface.

  • Keep out of the reach of children and pets that could knock them over.

  • Never leave a candle unattended and put them out before you go to bed.

  • Never put a candle under a shelf - always leave about a metre (three feet) between the candle and the shelving above it.

  • Don't burn candles for longer than the recommended time.

Electrical

A big concern at Christmas is overloading sockets as there tends to be a lot more being plugged in. This can just lead to your power cutting out but it may also cause over heating and a fire. Here are some tips on avoiding overloading your electrics:

  • Only use one extension lead per socket.

  • Never plug an extension lead into another extension lead.

  • Check the rating of your extension leads and ensure that the sum of the wattage of each appliance does not exceed that.

  • Use a multiway bar extension rather than a block adaptor.

  • Check sockets regularly to make sure that they are not overheating and that there aren't any marks.

Cooking

A fair few of us are likely to be spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen with so many family and friends coming round but you need to be careful. Kitchen's contain any number of dangers on a regular day but with the added distractions (and potentially the odd glass of the chef's choice of tipple) it is even more important to take extra care. Where possible try to cook with more wine (or other alcoholic beverage) in the food than in the chef and keep an eye on anything you have cooking. Don't leave the hob on unattended and make sure to check on you Christmas dinner at regular intervals to make sure that it isn't burning in any way.

Fireworks/Sparklers

Fireworks can be beautiful but if you do not use the correctly or do not take the proper precautions when using them they can cause serious harm not only to yourself and your property but to your neighbours as well. Sparklers look like a fun, child-friendly alternative to fireworks but they can reach temperatures that are 20 times the boiling point of water so you need to be very careful and supervise any children around them.

An easy way to remember the safety points for fireworks and other similar devices is: SPARKLER:

Shield your eyes with appropriate, protective eye-wear when lighting fireworks.

Plunge your sparklers into a bucket of cold water as soon as they go out.

Attend organised displays where possible.

Read the instructions on the fireworks carefully before use and ensure they comply with

British safety standards.

Keep fireworks in a closed metal box and only light one at a time.

Leave fireworks that fail to go off - Never return to a lit firework.

Ensure everyone remains a safe distance away - At Least 25 metres from a Category 3

firework.

Remove all debris and flammable objects - including plants/trees - from the area where you

are setting off your fireworks.

Fire Equipment

Never remove the batteries from smoke alarms, not even to power new toys at Christmas, as they are one of the most important items of fire safety equipment. Make sure to test your smoke alarms once a week and if the sound is weak or non-existent you should replace the batteries. Have a plan for an escape route just in case there is a fire and make sure everyone is aware of what it is.

Other recommended fire safety equipment includes a carbon monoxide alarm, a small fire extinguisher and a fire blanket. Carbon monoxide is known as the 'silent killer' because it is highly dangerous but odourless and colourless so the alarm may be the only way you know if there is a threat. A small fire extinguisher is useful for small fires to prevent them from becoming an inferno that engulfs your home. Make sure you read and remember the instructions so it can be used quickly in an emergency. Lastly, the fire blanket is usually found in the kitchen to deal with pan or oil fires and generally used just after the fire has started to prevent it from becoming something where you need an extinguisher. The main point for all of these items is that you educate everyone in your household on how to use them to give your family the best chance of preventing a house fire or severe injuries.

First Aid

Do Not put Ice or Ice Water on a burn as it can cause hypothermia.

Do Not use creams or ointments - these can potentially cause irritation and will not necessarily help. Also, if you need to go to A&E they will have to scrub it off to be able to see the extent of the damage which could cause further injury.

For minor burns:

- Cool the area by running it under cool (Not Cold) water for 20 minutes or gently apply a cool damp compress/cloth.

- Remove any jewellery and tight fitting clothing (burns can cause the area to swell very rapidly). Never remove anything that is stuck to a burn.

- Do Not break any blisters as the fluid is protecting the area against infection. If one does burst clean it gently with cool water.

- Bandage the wound with sterile gauze (Not Fluffy Cotton as that could shed and get stuck to the burned area) or wrap it in clingfilm. Wrap it loose enough that it will not put too much pressure on the area but tight enough that nothing can get in and cause irritation.

For major burns:

- Protect the injured person from further harm. If you can do so safely, make sure they are no longer in contact with the source of the burn. For electrical burns make sure the power source is off before approaching the injured person.

- If they are unconscious, make sure they are breathing - if not begin rescue breaths where possible.

- Remove any jewellery, belts, tight clothing or restrictive items as burns can swell rapidly. Never remove anything that is stuck to a burn.

- Cover the burned area with a cool moist cloth or bandage.

- Elevate the burned area - raise it above the heart if possible.

- Watch for signs of shock: pale complexion, clammy skin, shallow breathing, nausea, fainting.


Always go the A&E if:

- The burns are on your face, hands, feet or genitals (use your judgement for minor burns to your hands from something in the kitchen - e.g. you've caught your hand against a pan - as these are very common and likely not as serious).

- A child or elderly person are the one who has been burned as their skin is more delicate. If the child's burn is blistering and is larger than a 50p, phone an ambulance ASAP.

- It is on a joint e.g. knee or shoulder.

- the burn goes all the way round a part of you body e.g. arm or leg.

- it is longer than three inches or goes deeply into the skin.


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