Warren fire commissioner shares holiday safety tips

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published December 19, 2022


WARREN — You’re nestled in front of the fireplace with a warm crackling fire on a snowy winter’s night, gazing at a beautifully lit Christmas tree and falling asleep.

That may sound cozy or look picturesque on holiday cards, but it may not be the best choice for fire safety.

Commissioner Skip McAdams of the Warren Fire Department said everyone should sleep easier knowing precautions are in place to keep the house and its occupants safe.

“You never want to go to sleep with your tree lit, ‘’ McAdams said. “I know it is very beautiful, we like to look at it.  If we are going to go to sleep for the night, turn the tree off and other holiday decorations.”

Warren’s top fire department official shared a list of tips to help keep you and your family safe this holiday season.


Fire safety starts with the home
During the holidays and beyond, the commissioner advised all residents to check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors twice a year if they have the old-style battery-operated detectors.

“I would actually prefer people throw those out and buy the lithium-ion, 10-year smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that don’t require the changing of the batteries and install those in their homes,” McAdams said.

He said smoke detectors should be placed in each bedroom, with one additional detector on each floor of the home. Each level of the home should also have a carbon monoxide detector, whether the space is finished or not.

A permanent marker should be used to note the month and year purchased on the back of each lithium-ion smoke detector, and the devices should be thrown out after 10 years.


Fireplace care and caution
McAdams recommends hiring a licensed professional chimney sweep to check the chimney once a year to ensure it is free of creosote buildup or residue.

He said only seasoned dry wood that burns clean should be used. A wire mesh or glass screen should also be used in front of the fireplace.

“This prevents sparks from emanating and landing on combustible materials that could potentially catch fire,” McAdams said.

Christmas trees, decorations and other combustible materials should be kept at least 3 feet away from the fireplace and other heat sources.


Be careful with lights and electrical equipment
McAdams said it is important to be prepared and alert when operating lights, ornamental decorations and space heaters.

“When you are sleeping your reaction time is not as quick,” McAdams said.  “Time is your friend or your enemy in an emergency situation.”

All lights, electronic ornaments, space heaters and any other electrical device should be inspected to ensure they are in good working order. Anything worn, frayed or uncertain should be discarded.

“It is a good rule of thumb. When in doubt, throw it out,” McAdams said.

The commissioner recommends using energy-efficient LED lights.

“LED lights will save us a little money, are brighter and don’t heat up as much, reducing the threat of heat causing a fire,” he said. “I would like everyone to use LED lights.”

Trees should not be overloaded, and all product recommendations should be followed. McAdams said a circuit breaker should also be used as recommended.

Lights or other devices with a “UL” tag means the product was tested by Underwriters Laboratories, an independent testing agency that deems products safe for consumer use.

“You don’t want to purchase anything that doesn’t have a UL tag on it,” McAdams said.

McAdams recommended putting tree lights and outside lights on a timer to go off when the family is asleep.

“I put my lights on a timer and have them go off around the time we go to bed,” McAdams said. “I’m a proponent of that.”

When the holidays are over, McAdams said lights should be stored neatly and not wrapped in a big ball.

He said space heaters should only be used during waking hours.


Buy quality extension cords
McAdams said extension cords should be of good quality and in good condition, purchased from a reputable retailer and bearing that UL tag.

“Nothing against dollar stores, but if I had the choice to purchase a quality extension cord from a big box store with a UL rating tag on it and pay $4, I would, rather than go somewhere and pay a dollar for it,” McAdams said. “A one-time investment in high quality products will save you money in the long term and provide a level of safety over the long term.”

The commissioner said extension cords should not be covered with anything, particularly rugs or blankets. The cords should be visible but tucked away safely so they won’t be tripped over, kicked or stepped on.


Christmas tree care
McAdams said it’s important to check a real tree daily to make sure it is moist and watered as needed.

Electricity and water don’t mix, and he said to be careful not to get water in any of the electrical plugs or outlets when watering the tree — a potential shock hazard for the person watering it.

The tree should be discarded when it begins shedding a significant number of needles.

Many cities have Christmas tree drop-off sites or curbside pickup through the sanitation department.

Discarded trees should not be stored in the house or garage prior to disposal. McAdams said dried Christmas trees burn quickly.