Fort Lee fire officials have not seen an uptick in holiday-related fire emergencies so far this year, and they want to keep it that way.
“In the past, we’ve had instances with Christmas trees and things like that,” said Fire Official Steven Curry of the Fort Lee Fire Prevention Bureau. “So far, knock on wood, this year has been a quiet year.”
He also said awareness is key, and that if residents follow a few simple tips, they will remain safe, not only during the holiday season, but also throughout the winter months.
Christmas Tree Safety
If you use a live tree, make sure it gets plenty of water. According to Curry, Christmas trees that are too dry are to blame for thousands of home fires each year.
“When buying a Christmas tree, be sure and pick a fresh tree,” Curry said. “You know it’s fresh if the needles are firmly attached. When the tree is in your home, keep plenty of water around the base.”
Curry also said it’s important not to wait too long after the holidays to dispose of your tree, and that once the needles start falling off in increasing amounts, it’s time for the tree to go.
“Those Christmas trees burn so readily once they dry out,” he said. “Another issue too, especially for people who live in multiple-family dwellings is that they dispose of their tree properly and get it outside the building, not just leave it in the hallway. It’s important to move it away from the house.”
Understanding that most people prefer “live” Christmas trees, Curry said artificial ones are much more “fire-safe.”
Holiday Lighting Safety
When it comes to lights on Christmas trees or homes, it’s important to make sure there’s no worn insulation and that there are no broken sockets, according to Curry, who said people should follow manufacturers’ specifications for how many sets of lights they can safely string together.
“If you put too many lights on one circuit, it’s no different than if you overload an extension chord,” Curry said. “It can cause the wires to short out, which on a live tree could cause a fire.”
The Fire Prevention Bureau also cautions against leaving Christmas trees lit when you go to bed or when you leave your home, even for a short period.
“When you’re sleeping, the hazard that it poses is that if a fire does occur, you’re going to be less aware of it until it’s possibly too late,” Curry said.
Turning off the lights on the tree when you go to bed ties directly into the importance of testing smoke detectors during the holidays, according to Curry.
“This is a good time of the year for that; we always recommend when the clocks get changed to change your batteries and check your smoke detectors, but around the holidays and around Christmastime, when we have all these electric ornaments around the house, it’s a better time to of year to make sure they’re working properly,” he said.
Noting that not many people have wood burning fireplaces anymore, and that most use gas inserts in their fireplaces instead, Curry said residents should still make sure to hang stockings far enough away from any open flame.
Space Heater Safety
Certainly not just a holiday issue, but one fire officials warn residents about during the colder winter months is to make sure space heaters are kept as far away as possible from curtains, bedspreads and furniture. Kids also need to be taught to stay away from space heaters, and if possible, heaters should be kept out of children’s reach, Curry said.
Curry said candles are always an issue when it comes to fire safety, no matter the time of year.
“Candles are getting more prominent now in use year round as a matter of fact,” he said. “We always recommend that if you’re going to use candles that you put them in a sturdy, glass-type container or a sturdy candle holder and keep them away from any open windows that can blow the drapes into the candles or the breeze that comes in from outside can blow the candle itself over if it’s not in a sturdy holder,” he said. “With candles too we recommend that you don’t go to sleep at night with them lit.”
Curry said damage from Superstorm Sandy has made low-lying areas like neighboring Edgewater a major concern for fire officials because river water got into homes and basements, and the saltwater can cause deterioration in electrical systems.
“But we’ve been pretty lucky so far not to have been affected [in Fort Lee],” Curry said. “Hopefully it stays that way.”
Many different types of fire safety pamphlets, including holiday fire safety and cooking safety, are available in the main vestibule of Borough Hall near the elevators. You can also call the Fire Prevention Bureau at 201-592-3500, ext. 1502 for more information.