Burn Notice

Appears in the December 2019 issue.

By Cara Sullivan

Rekindle your seasonal safety smarts with 9 non-negotiables from Naperville firefighter David Hillis 

1. Turn your Christmas lights off before bed and when you’re not home. Does it look as pretty? Nope—but according to the National Fire Protection Association, lights cause 40 percent of Christmas tree fires. 

2. Practice wood-burning fire safety. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually; make sure the damper is open before you light it; put all fires out before bed; use a safety gate to protect little kids; and keep the hearth clear of anything that could catch fire.

3. Read the fine print on your decorations. Manufacturers recommend a maximum of 400 lights per circuit. So if there are 100 lights on a strand, don’t connect more than three or four. 

4. Use space heaters with caution. Place these devices at least three feet away from anything that could catch fire (curtains, tinsel, a blanket thrown from a crib), keep children and pets away from them, and never, ever leave them on when you’re not home.

5. Close your kids’ bedroom doors at night. I’ve seen smoke staining and smoke penetration through a sealed door, and I’ve seen it through an open door. Let’s just say my children sleep with their doors closed.

6. And install a smoke detector in every bedroom. This is standard practice in new homes, but older ones are typically in the hallways. Your kids are way more likely to wake up if it’s in their room—especially if the door is closed. They have models now that allow parents to record their own voices, which is more effective than conventional alarms.

7. Use high-quality extension cords. They’re safe to use temporarily as long as they’re appropriate for the setting (outdoor lights require outdoor extension cords, for example) and grounded for fire safety.

8. Keep your Christmas tree green. Water it every single day and dispose of it responsibly once it’s dry (see box). A dry tree is the single biggest holiday fire hazard.

9. Be proactive. Come January, replace your fire extinguisher and swap out the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Spruce Up

In Naperville, Christmas trees are collected during the first two weeks of January; simply place your decoration-free tree at the curb on your normal garbage collection day.

Photograph by Olivia Kohler