Tis the Season to be Careful – Holiday Fire and Safety Tips

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The holidays can certainly be a wonderful time of year at skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities and senior housing properties of all types. It is a much-anticipated season full of decorations and celebrations.

During this joyous time, it is important for individuals and organizations to maintain a clear focus on safety-related matters and not to forget to use common sense and good judgment when transforming their properties into “Winter Wonderlands.”

Here are some holiday fire and safety tips to remember:

Exits: It is imperative that all exits within your building are kept free and clear of any obstructions. Items like holiday trees or “rearranged” furniture should never partially or totally compromise an exit or other parts of the means of egress. Do not let “seasonal design” impede on function or code requirements. Exits should always be maintained in a condition that is free and clear of any obstructions that may impede emergency evacuation and represent a code violation. Keep holiday decorations out of the means of egress to help ensure clear exit width requirements.

Electricity: It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and pull a “Clark Griswold” (the Chevy Chase character in the movie “Christmas Vacation” who decorates every square inch of his house with outrageous holiday lighting). Some properties may not have the electrical capacity or proper amount of electrical outlets to support elaborate lighting or electronic decorations. It is critical not to overload electrical outlets or use unsafe wiring arrangements. Again, do not let function impede on design or safety. Use good common sense when setting up electric decorations. If it looks unsafe, it probably is. Do not get carried away with extension cords and only use approved sockets strips or surge protectors with built-in circuit breakers to safely expand the use of your building’s electrical delivery system.

Live Decorations: While “live” decorations like trees and wreaths add a certain ambiance to the season, they are unsafe and likely prohibited by code in commercial and public buildings. If you have ever seen a dry holiday tree burn, you understand the ferocity and potential disaster that it represents. As a firefighter, I responded to several serious fires involving holiday trees and the results were always the same- extreme property damage and serious injury to building occupants. It is recommended that you keep live holiday decorations outside of your building; even if you receive items like wreaths as gifts. Live decorations are very dangerous and may represent a code violation if they are discovered within your building.

Open Flame: Candles come in every shape, flavor and size. Simply stated, “Candles start fires.” There has been an alarming increase in candle-related fires in the last three years that clearly defines how dangerous these items really are. As a safety advocate and former fire marshal, my training, experience and common sense requires me to advise you that the “benefit is simply not worth the risk.” If candles are used within your building, they must be constantly monitored and given plenty of clearance. Never place candles near plants, flowers, decorations or any other combustible materials. The occupants of buildings that I responded to over the years that experienced a fire involving a candle never imagined the destruction and disruption within their home or business that such an innocent item could cause.

Fire Protection Systems: You may think that fire sprinkler head or smoke detector on the ceiling is a great spot to hang some garland, mistletoe, or other holiday decorations but, THEY ARE NOT! In accordance with code, nothing can be hanging or attached to these critical life-saving devices. Resist the urge to use features of fire protection systems (sprinkler heads, smoke detectors, horn/strobes, pull stations, etc.) as anchor points. These devices must be maintained in a condition that is free and clear of all obstructions that could compromise their performance during an emergency situation. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “This safety guy is taking all of the fun out of the holidays.” In fact, I share these tips with you to make sure that your holidays are full of fun, joy and laughter; not disaster. Please remember to incorporate common sense and “safe practices” in your holiday cheer.

Guest blog originally posted on Pedagogy.com. 

Was this blog helpful? Check out our Positive Fire and Life Safety Practices course aimed to promote positive practices that will help a facility establish and maintain regulatory compliance with applicable Life Safety Codes.

Guest blogger:
Stan Szpytek is the president of Fire and Life Safety, Inc. (FLS) based out of Mesa, Arizona and is the Life Safety/Disaster Planning Consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association and a consultant for the California Association of Health Facilities (CAHF). Originally posted on

Fire and Life Safety, Inc. is a consulting firm that provides loss control, risk management and emergency preparedness programs for businesses of all types. Stan is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with a Chicago area fire department having served with the agency for 26 years. His firm’s assessment and training programs are designed to assist businesses and organizations with disaster planning and recovery programs that will help ensure viability during a crisis. For more information please visit www.FLSafety.org, e-mail at Firemarshal10@aol.com or call Stan directly at (708) 707-6363.