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5 holiday life safety tips you might have overlooked

December 14, 2011
by by Stan Szpytek
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‘Tis the season to be careful

The holiday season can certainly be a wonderful time of year full of celebrations—and decorations—at senior housing properties. During this joyous time, it is important for caregivers and organizations to maintain a clear focus on safety-related matters, employing common sense and good judgment when transforming their properties into Winter Wonderlands. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This safety guy is taking all of the fun out of the holidays.” In fact, I share these tips with you to make sure that your holidays are full of fun, joy and laughter—not disaster.

1. Allow exits to be exited

It is imperative that all exits within your building are kept free and clear of any obstructions; items like holiday trees or “rearranged” furniture should never partially or totally compromise an exit or other parts of the means of egress. Do not let seasonal design impede on function or code requirements, and always maintain exits in a condition that is free and clear of any obstructions that may impede emergency evacuation (and represent a code violation).

2. Don’t pull a ‘Griswold’

It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit at your facility and become “Clark Griswold”—the Chevy Chase character in the movie Christmas Vacation who decorates every square inch of his house with outrageous holiday lighting. Some properties may not have the electrical capacity or proper amount of electrical outlets to support elaborate lighting or electronic decorations. It is critical not to overload electrical outlets or use unsafe wiring arrangements.

Again, do not let function impede on design or safety. Use good common sense when setting up electric decorations. If it looks unsafe, it probably is. Also, do not get carried away with extension cords and only use approved sockets strips or surge protectors with built-in circuit breakers to safely expand the use of your building’s electrical delivery system.

Avoid this.

3. Leave the flora outside

While “live” decorations like trees and wreaths add a certain ambiance to the season, they are unsafe and likely prohibited by code in commercial and public buildings. If you have ever seen a dry holiday tree burn, you understand the ferocity and potential disaster that it represents. As a firefighter, I responded to several serious fires involving holiday trees and the results were always the same: extreme property damage and serious injury to building occupants. It is highly recommended that you keep live holiday decorations outside of your building—even if you receive such items as gifts.

4. Open flame—not exactly a good idea

Candles come in every shape, flavor and size. And all of them start fires. There has been an alarming increase in candle-related fires in the last three years that clearly defines how dangerous these items really are. The benefit of adding them to your facility’s décor is simply not worth the risk.

If candles are used within your building, they must be constantly monitored and given plenty of clearance. Never place candles near plants, flowers, decorations or any other combustible materials. I’ve responded to many fires involving a candle, and none of the buildings’ occupants ever imagined the destruction and disruption within their home or business that such an innocent item could cause.

5. Detection systems don’t work when covered

You may think that a sprinkler head or smoke detector on the ceiling is a great spot to hang some garland, mistletoe or other holiday decoration. Guess what: they are not. In accordance with code, nothing can be hanging or attached to these critical life-saving devices. Resist the urge to use features of fire protection systems (sprinkler heads, smoke detectors, horn/strobes, pull stations, etc.) as anchor points. These devices must be maintained in a condition that is free and clear of all obstructions that could compromise their performance during an emergency situation.

Stan Szpytek is the president of consulting firm Fire and Life Safety, Inc., in Mesa, Arizona, and is the Life Safety/Disaster Planning Consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association. Szpytek is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 30 years of experience in life safety. For more information, visit www.emallianceusa.com or email Szpytek at Firemarshal10@aol.com.

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