Your winter-holiday safety checklist

  • Published
  • By Heidi Hunt
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
With its festivities and inclement weather, the holiday season presents many safety trials both indoors and out. Being prepared and following simple safety tips can help keep individuals safe and warm this winter.

An increase in travel and celebration are often seen during the holiday season. Both ground safety and the fire department encourage the following tips to stay safe and can also be found at

"Ensure your car is in good repair, and you have an emergency kit inside," said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Dillingham, 509th Bomb Wing Safety. "No matter how good of a driver you are, you cannot control the decisions of the drivers around you."

Winterize vehicles, and routinely inspect vehicles and tires.
 Watch for deer.
 When exiting a vehicle people should be cautious of their surroundings.
 Seventy percent of winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles. A blanket or rug under the front of a tire will help "unstick" a vehicle by increasing traction. It can be used on walkways to prevent slipping.

Preventing Holiday Tree Fires

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, each year fires occur during the holiday seasons and injure 2,600 individuals and causes more than $930 million in damage.

"The holidays are prone to be high fire rates," said Paul Williams, Whiteman Assistant Chief Fire Prevention.

The following are highly-encouraged fire prevention suggestions:
 Select a fresh cut tree, needles should be green and hard to pull back from the branches (the needles should not break if it has been freshly cut). To identify if a tree is old, bounce the tree truck on the ground, if the needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long and has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.
 The trunk should be sticky to the touch.
Williams suggest mixing one cup of sugar for every gallon of water and adding to the tree stand reservoir. The sugar water acts as an artificial sap, helping the tree to live longer.
 Place the tree away from a heat source; including a fireplace or heat vent. Heat will dry out the tree, causing it to ignite by heat, flame or sparks.
 When disposing your tree, never put branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. Discard tree promptly if it becomes dry. The best way to discard a tree is to take it to a recycling center.
 Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
 Using an artificial tree is suggested.

"A real tree is nice, but if you are going to use them, a week is about the most time to have them up, because no matter how much you water them, a trunk can only get so much water up in it," Williams said. "It's not like the root system where the tree sucks its water up. It only takes spark on a needle for it to start on fire. They can be very dangerous."

Reading about safety tips does not do fire prevention justice to how quickly a tree can become engrossed in flames.

Team Whiteman members can visit the following site, to witness the realism of a holiday tree fire.

Holiday Lights and Decorations
 Untangle and inspect the wiring (each year) for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them away. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
 Do not overload electrical outlets. Do not link more than three strands, unless directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires - they should be warm to the touch.
 Never leave holiday lights unattended (could short or start a fire).
 Fasten lights to outside trees, house and walls to protect from wind damage.
 Keep "twinkling" lights out of reach of children and pets.
 Use indoor lights inside your home and outdoor lights outside.
 All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents.
 Never throw wrapping paper in the fireplace. It can throw off dangerous sparks and produce a chemical buildup in the home that could cause and explosion.
 Never use lighted candles on a tree or near a tree.
 Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. Use only as directed.

Smoke alarms
A working smoke alarm and fresh batteries should be in place at all times. Practice an escape plan and know when and who to call for help in case of a fire.

"Invest in a fire extinguisher and always follow directions," Williams said. "Don't become a statistic."

Cooking and Food preparation
 Don't leave the room or house while things are on the stove. Be attentive to food that is cooking. Keep flammable items away from the stove while cooking, such as pot holders, loose clothing and wooden utensils. A good habit is to keep pot and pan handles facing inward to avoid accidents, according to Dillingham.
 If deep frying a turkey, ensure the turkey is completely thawed and that there is no water in it. Pat dry the inside. If the turkey is frozen, the grease reacts to the water/ice and it will boil over.
 Prevent food borne illness properly cooking and storing food.
 Ensure all equipment has been shut off after preparing food.

Candle Care
According to the AFPA, December is the peek time of year for home candle fires. During 2003-2006, an estimated 14,800 home structure fires started by candles were reported to local fire departments, causing an average of 14 deaths, 1,340 civilian injuries and an estimated direct property loss of $471 million. The AFPA also suggests never leaving a candle unattended.

Williams recommends using a candle warmer or a reed diffuser as a safer alternate to scents with a flame.

Space Heaters
 Only electric Underwriters Laboratories, (UL)-listed, space heater with thermostatic control and automatic tip over cutoff are authorized to be used inside any Air Force facility. Keep all heaters three feet away from everything.

"The holidays afford us a well deserved opportunity to relax from our busy operations tempo," said Lt. Col. Jeff Schreiner, 509th BW Chief of Safety. "Unfortunately every holiday season is marred by preventable off duty mishaps across the Air Force. Extra vigilance is a must to keep ourselves and our families safe and happy!"