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On This Silent Night, Do Safety Right

When working as a crime reporter for a daily newspaper in the 1980s, I discovered one thing was sure to occur each holiday season: Someone’s house would burn and their family would be left homeless and distraught during what was supposed to be the happiest time of the year.

You could bet on it happening at least once between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It might as well have been penciled in as an annual assignment for the news staff to write a front-page feature on a bereft family who’d lost all possessions to fire, including a sparkly Christmas tree and every gift under it.

These stories always cast a pale on the newsroom, resulting in sadness and sympathy from otherwise cynical reporters.

Truly, there are few things more difficult to report on than a grieving family who’s lost everything—God forbid, even a family member—to fire during the holidays.

After switching gears from the newspaper to writing for electric cooperatives, I better understood what seemed to be the inevitability of a holiday house fire. During this season, there’s more cooking, more entertaining, more lights, more electronics—more of everything that calls for electricity, and so the inherent dangers associated with it are multiplied.

For the past two decades, I’ve written article after article on electric safety, especially at the holidays, reminding electric cooperative members that overloaded

Granted, there have been Decembers when I’ve thought, “Seriously, this story again? No, not this year.”

But then my memory returns to those newspaper assignments about loss of home, possessions, and sometimes life, due to fire at the holidays. Immediately, my gratitude for the opportunity to remind co-op members of electric safety resumes.

And so, in hopes these simple reminders may keep your holidays happy and safe, I offer up the obligatory holiday article on safety tips. These come from the Electrical Safety Foundation (ESFI, www.esfi.org), and you’ve probably already heard or read them, but maybe your children or their friends have not.

Yes, these tips are routine. But they will remain relevant as long as electricity powers holiday celebrations:

  • Inspect electrical decorations for damage. Cracked sockets, bare wires and loose connections may cause a serious shock or start a fire.
  • Don’t overload outlets. Avoid overloading outlets and plug only one high-wattage item into each outlet at a time.
  • Never connect more than three strings of incandescent lights. More than three strands may not only blow a fuse, but can also cause a fire.
  • Keep trees fresh by watering daily. Dry trees are a serious fire hazard.
  • Use battery-operated candles. Candles start almost half of home decoration fires.
  • Keep combustibles at least three feet from heat sources. Heat sources too close to decorations contributes to half of home fires that begin with decorations.
  • Protect cords from damage. To avoid shock or fire hazards, cords should never be pinched by furniture, placed under rugs, located near heat sources, or attached by nails or staples.
  • Check decorations for certification label. Decorations not bearing a label from an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or Intertek (ETL) have not been tested for safety, could be hazardous, and should be avoided.
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking. Unattended cooking equipment is the leading cause of home cooking fires.
  • Turn off, unplug, and extinguish all decorations when going to sleep or leaving the house. Unattended candles are the cause of one in five home candle fires. Half of home fire deaths occur between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.


Jackie Kennedy has worked with Georgia’s electric cooperatives for 23 years, producing newsletters, press releases and articles about the industry or energy-related matters. She is the author of People, Power, Progress: The Story of Jackson EMC, published in 2013. In her blog, she grapples with a variety of energy efficiency topics.