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Daily Journal
     December 6, 2019      #33-340 KDJ

Firefighters urge residents to use caution as they


By Jeff Bonty

Christmas makes us think of Santa, presents, food and family.

But firefighters think of the fire hazards Christmas trees and decorations can bring. So, through participation in the annual Keep the Wreath Red campaign, fire departments across the U.S. are urging residents to remember fire safety as they enter the holiday season.

As part of the campaign, fire departments hang a wreath lit with red bulbs and ask residents to “Keep it red.”

When a holiday-related fire occurs in a community, a red bulb is replaced with a white one. It is done to remind residents to practice fire safety during not just the holidays but at all times.

“I have people stop and talk to me and ask if all the bulbs [on the wreath] are red,” Bourbonnais Fire Protection Chief Ed St. Louis said. “They know of the campaign and what it means.”

Flammable decorations, candles and additional time in the kitchen lead to an increase in the number of house fires during the holiday season.

Between 2013-17, U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 160 home fires that started with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

These fires caused an average of three deaths, 15 injuries and $10 million in direct property damage annually.

When selecting a real tree instead of an artificial one, there are safety measures that should be taken, Kankakee Fire Chief Damon Schuldt said.

Keeping the tree watered is of the utmost importance, with daily watering encouraged. Schuldt said they can use up to a gallon of water per day.

Trees should be kept at least 3 feet away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights. As for the strings of lights on the tree, Schuldt said to be mindful of how many you add.

“I would caution on connecting an excessive number,” he said. “LEDs burn cooler so they can be a better choice. Check the light strings for frayed wires or other discrepancies.”

National averages were reported as 22 candle fires in homes every day between 2013-17. Three out of five candle fires started when something that could burn — such as furniture, mattresses or bedding, curtains or decorations — was too close to the candle.

Detection is key

The holidays are a great reminder to check your home’s smoke detectors, Schuldt said.

Bradley interim Fire Chief Jim Keener said people can call their local department for assistance. The American Red Cross has helped local residents with smoke detectors are well, St. Louis said.

The nonprofit’s Sound the Alarm campaign is a series of home fire safety and smoke alarm installation events across the country. Together, with fire departments and other community partners, Red Cross volunteers canvas at-risk neighborhoods to install free smoke alarms and replace batteries in existing alarms.

Heating spaces

This is also a good time of year to remember to practice winter fire safety. Only one heat-producing appliance, such as a space heater, should be plugged into an electrical outlet at a time. Also, they should be kept at least 3 feet from anything that can catch fire.

“Space heaters need space,” St. Louis said. “If not, it can have bad results.”

Keep the Wreath Red

In 1954, Naperville part-time firefighter Paul Boecker pitched a new idea.

Just 23 years old, Boecker was ahead of the times, believing fire prevention began in the community.

His hope was to increase holiday decor fire risk awareness by placing a red-lit wreath outside the fire station where community members could visualize bulbs changed to white; representing a holiday-related fire. This coined the phrase “keep the wreath red."

By 1980, Boecker had worked his way to chief, and the holiday prevention campaign, now widespread, was adopted by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association.

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Jeff Bonty