Inquire with your property manager or building superintendent/resident manager on whether your condominium, cooperative, or rental property has fire safety information available for distribution. If so, be sure to familiarize yourself with the materials and put any prevention tips into practice. In addition to any building-specific information you may obtain for your property, we’ll get you started with some important general tips to maximize fire safety at home during the holiday season, as well as every week of the year.    

1. Merry and Safe

Before you reuse last year’s holiday decorations, be sure to inspect electric lights for damage or age, and never exceed manufacturer recommendations for extension cord use. Use clips to hang your decorative lights, rather than nails. If you’re buying new decorations, choose those that are flame resistant or flame retardant. You can also use battery powered candles instead of lighting wax ones.  If you’re planning to put up a natural fir tree in your home this holiday season, pick a fresh, green one and place it at least three feet away from any heat source, without blocking any exit. Cut the trunk 2” from the base and water daily. Decorate the tree with lights that have been lab-tested (never candles!) and replace any strings that appear worn or have loose bulb connectors. And remember, always turn off tree lights before you leave the house or go to bed.

2. Fire Place Faux Pas

If you reuse electrical decorations from last year, be sure they’re in good working order before turning them on – and that includes inspecting cords for fraying.  Keep all paper and plastic decor away from sources of heat or flame – and always out of reach of children and pets.  And speaking of children, teach your kids how to stay safe around fire – and take special precautions if they’re wearing masks or costumes with limited vision or trailing fabric.  Make sure they know how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire.

3. Décor vs. Ashtrays

Potted plants, or any type of holiday or all-occasion floral arrangements hung throughout your home, are décor, not ashtrays. If you’re a smoker, using potted plants as ashtrays might seem like a convenient choice however, plant soil can be highly flammable – after all, it’s made up of combustible organic materials like peat moss, shredded wood, bark or perlite. Even a small burning ember from a cigarette can erupt into flames. If you smoke, steer clear of plants and use an ashtray.

4. Responsible Food Prep

When prepping for a feast, it is important to remember to stay in the kitchen as you’re boiling, frying, roasting or baking. Stray crumbs or overheated pots and pans can catch fire, and that can spell disaster if you’re not there to take quick action.  Kitchen fires can spread quickly, so stay vigilant and always keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen – and be sure you know how to use it.

5. Unplug!

Social callings during the holidays can be as frequent as they are fabulous. Don’t let morning rushes turn into a bigger disaster by leaving equipment like curling irons, straighteners or clothing irons plugged in after you dash out the door to your events. These appliances can reach temperatures of 450º or more, and can cause a fire if they come in contact with flammable items.  A safer bet?  Unplug everything – even if you only leave the room for a few moments.

6. Make a Plan

Holiday season or not, creating  a fire escape plan for your entire family – and don’t forget your pets. Review the plan and practice your escape procedures together as a group to ensure everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of fire. Also be sure you’re familiar with your building’s fire safety guides and equipment, as well as the locations of all exits and stairwells.
If your community has as an Emergency Action Plan in place, participate in fire drills to become familiar with escape routes and procedures. It’s also a good idea to request extra training if you need it. If you have health or mobility issues that could impact a fire rescue, let your superintendent/resident manager and property manager know you’ll require extra assistance.  Residents may also notify the local fire department to alert them of any particular needs. It may also be helpful to keep in touch with a neighbor that you are friendly with, and trust, about your needs.

7. Four Legged Family

Family is important - Kudos to you for including your four-legged family members in your fire escape plan! Now take a few more steps to further enhance their safety.  Make sure Fido or Fluffy is always collared and tagged – you should be doing this already – and keep a leash or crate near escape route exits.   Microchipping is a good idea, too.  And if fire does strike, take comfort in the fact that fire departments are starting to become more pet-aware and pet-friendly, and many now include pet-sized oxygen masks as part of their life-saving equipment – hopefully, your fire department is one of them. You can always give your local ladder a call to find out.

8. Install Smoke Detectors 

A fire can happen anytime, anywhere, catching you off guard. Most home fire deaths happen when people are asleep, so it’s critical you have working smoke detectors in your home to provide an early warning.  How effective are they?  The National Fire Protection Association estimates that a working smoke alarm in your bedroom cuts by half your chances of dying in a fire.  Be sure to install smoke detectors in every bedroom, outside every separate sleeping area, and on every level of your private residence. Don’t forget to test the batteries twice a year – as a helpful reminder, do it when you set your clocks forward and back in spring and fall.

9. Fire Safety Equipment List

It is smart to have a fire safety equipment list handy year round. Although exiting your home during a fire should always be your first priority, small, contained fires (such as one in a wastebasket) can be eliminated with a home fire extinguisher – but ONLY after everyone else has exited the building and the fire department has been called. Select a multi-purpose extinguisher that isn’t too big to handle. Follow instructions on proper use, and always keep your back to an exit so you can escape. If the room has filled with smoke, exit immediately.  For even more protection, install carbon monoxide detectors – they can alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide gas, known as an odorless, colorless, silent killer. For even more comprehensive fire safety tips, information and resources, visit the National Fire Protection Agency or the Red Cross.

10. Clean Your Gutters

10.As we transition from summer to autumn and winter, be mindful of the plant debris, sediment and dirt that has been building up from earlier in the year. Dried out debris can ignite if the wind carries stray embers to the roof from your barbeque or fire pit, so keeping your gutters, outdoor common areas and balcony areas clean can significantly reduce the risk of fire. 
The winter holiday season is a perfect opportunity to double-check your home to minimize fire risks and maximize safety for you and your family.  Once you’re in the habit of reducing potential hazards, it’s much easier to remain vigilant and keep your family safe for the remaining months of the year as well.  For more fire prevention tips and safety guidance, contact FirstService Residential.  
Thursday November 19, 2015