Tips to stay safe during the holiday season


Photo Credit: (MGN Online)

Soundharjya Babu, Contributor

PITTSBURGH — The holiday season has come around once again, bringing more risks and injuries from simple objects that families should take precautions to avoid.

Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Matthew J. Brown encourages residents to stay safe with open flames during their celebrations.

“Fires are especially common during the holidays, claiming more than 500 lives, causing more than 2,200 injuries, and costing $554 million in property damage nationally this time of year,” said Brown.

Unattended cooking and open flames are the leading causes of fires during the holiday season. According to Brown, more than half of the home decoration fires in December are started by candles, and one out of every 45 people die in a Christmas-tree fire.

“It’s imperative that our residents take the necessary steps to protect their loved ones and have a safe and enjoyable holiday season,” said Brown.

These are some of the precautions residents can follow to have a safe and festive holiday celebration.


  • Place lit candles at least 12 inches away from decorations and other things that can burn and keep them away from areas where they might be knocked or blown over.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Always use a candle holder that is sturdy, heat resistant and big enough to collect dripping wax.
  • Never move a candle while it’s burning.
  • Keep candles, matches and lighters out of the reach of children.



  • When purchasing an artificial tree, choose one that is tested and labeled as fire resistant. Those with built-in electrical systems should have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label.
  • When purchasing a natural tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches, and needles don’t break when bent between your fingers. The trunk should be sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree shouldn’t lose many needles.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it at least 3 feet away from fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, and portable heaters. Make sure it isn’t blocking an exit.
  • If using a natural tree, cut off about 2 inches of the trunk and place it in a sturdy stand. Keep the stand continually filled with water so the tree doesn’t dry out and become a fire hazard.



  • Be aware that some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords don’t get damaged.
  • Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord.
  • When stringing lights and decorations outside your reach, use a proper ladder with someone supporting the base.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Choose decorations that are flame resistant or retardant.
  • In homes with small children, avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, have small removable parts, or resemble candy or food.
  • Keep potentially poisonous holiday plants, including mistletoe berries, Jerusalem cherry and holly berry, away from children.



  • Before lighting a fireplace, remove all decorations from the area. Also, check to see that the flue is open.
  • Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.
  • Do not burn gift wrap paper in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
  • Keep a screen in front of the fireplace when a fire is burning.
  • If a glass-fronted gas fireplace is used, keep people away from it with a screen or gate. The glass doors can get hot enough to cause serious burns and stay hot long after the fire is out.



  • Read instructions and warning labels when choosing toys for children. Make sure the toy is appropriate for your child’s age and development.
  • Separate opened gifts by age. Toys intended for older children may contain small pieces, including button batteries, that can pose a risk to curious, younger siblings.
  • To prevent both burns and electrical shocks, don’t give children under the age of 10 a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead, buy toys that are battery-operated.
  • Remove tags, strings and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.
  • Watch for pull toys with strings that are more than 12 inches in length. They could be a strangulation hazard.
  • If you are giving a bike, skateboard or scooter this holiday season, include a helmet to keep them safe while they’re having fun.
  • Remove wrapping papers, bags, paper, ribbons and bows after gifts are opened. Those items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to small child and can cause a fire if near a flame.



  • Fully cook meats and poultry, and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits as bacteria are often present on raw foods.
  • Always keep raw foods and cooked foods separate, and use separate utensils when preparing them.
  • Always thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave, never on the countertop.
  • Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat is cooked at the correct temperature.
  • Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • Keep hot liquids and food away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over by young children.
  • Wash your hands frequently when handling food.
  • Never put a spoon used to taste food back into food without washing it.
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop.



  • Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside. Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children don’t touch them.
  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding.
  • Clean up immediately after a party. A child could choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco.
  • Keep an eye out for spots that might be dangerous to children like unlocked cabinets, unattended purses, accessible cleaning or laundry products, stairways or hot radiators.
  • Keep a list of important phone numbers needed in case of emergency, such as poison control, and make that list easily accessible.