St. Louis Park fire chief: Tis the season … for safety

St. Louis Park Fire Chief Steve Koering
St. Louis Park Fire Chief Steve Koering

By Guest Columnist Steve Koering

Everything about autumn is enjoyable, from the temperatures to the colors and, of course, the launch of the holiday season.

Avid decorators may have already begun unpacking holiday decorations. All of this preparation is important to create the ideally festive atmosphere for family and friends, but safety is also important to consider at this time of year. This is the height of the fire season in single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes and apartments. The majority of these fires and loss of life are preventable with just a few simple precautions.

According to ServiceMaster, which specializes in after-fire cleanup, 85 percent of its agents report homeowners don’t own a fire extinguisher. This is easily remedied with a quick trip and about $40 dollars spent at the local home improvement or hardware store. Keep a 5- or 10-pound ABC extinguisher near your grill, in the kitchen or wherever there is a fire risk.

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be tested for operation and all batteries replaced as part of your daylight saving routine. Most homeowners do not have enough detectors in their home to buy the time they need to exit or be warned in event of a fire, and many have not checked the batteries.

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) strongly urges against the use of gas-powered hot oil turkey fryers. The injury and loss of property caused by these devices, even for the most seasoned user, is preventable.

Most importantly, don’t leave cooking unattended. The NFPA says 34 percent of holiday fires are caused by unattended cooking equipment.

Consider using LED holiday lights. They use less energy and create less demand on a home’s electrical service and also operate at a lower temperature than traditional lights.

Decorative trees should be placed at least three feet from any heat source. Live trees should be watered regularly and discarded as soon as they are dry.

Open-flame candles accounted for nearly 11,000 structure fires from 2007 to 2011, according to the NFPA. One-third of these fires started in a bedroom, accounting for 39 percent of deaths and 45 percent of injuries. Never leave open-flame candles unattended. Even better, consider using battery-powered flameless candles.

As I mentioned in my last article, a component of resiliency is preparation. Does your family have an evacuation plan and have they practiced it? The holidays bring guests to the home who should also be accounted for in any plan.

Lastly, this time of year also marks the start of the cold and flu season. Take precautions to limit vulnerability by getting a flu shot, using effective hand-washing and covering when coughing.

We want this to be a season of great celebration and connection with family and friends. An intentional effort to focus on these few items can result in a safe and happy holiday season. For more information, visit nfpa.org.

Steve Koering is the St. Louis Park fire chief. He wrote this as part of a monthly St. Louis Park public safety column.