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Holiday hazards

FD firefighters stress Christmas and cold weather safety

December 19, 2013
By BILL SHEA, , Messenger News

The stockings may be hung by the chimney, but that chimney needs some professional care to be safe, according to firefighters.

And all through the house, nothing may be stirring, not even a mouse, especially if the Christmas tree is properly watered, the candles are extinguished and the smoke detectors are working.

The Fort Dodge Fire Department is offering some advice to keep people safe through the holiday season and cold winter weather.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Doug Ostbloom, Fort Dodge fire marshal, demonstrates one of the important aspects of fire prevention by inspecting the wiring on the lights being used for frays and cracks.

Christmas trees are now the focal point of many living rooms, but the live variety can be hazardous if not properly cared for, according to firefighters.

Daily watering of live trees is crucial, said Assistant Fire Chief Doug Ostbloom, who is the city's fire marshal.

He said when people bring a live tree home, they should cut about 2 inches off the bottom of the trunk. That, he said, creates a fresh opening that will allow moisture to be drawn up the trunk.

Fact Box

Holiday and winter fire prevention tips

Christmas trees

Water live trees frequently.

Keep trees away from heat vents, fire places and space heaters.

Electrical items

Use products that have been tested and have the UL label of Underwriters Laboratory on the package.

Make sure extension cords are rated for the item they are being used with.

Do not connect more than three strings of Christmas lights to an extension cord.

Do not place extension cords where they can be stepped on.


Use turkey fryers outside.

Keep children at least 3 feet from a hot stove or oven.

Do not leave food unattended on a hot stove.


Keep candles at least 1 foot from any material that could catch fire.

Extinguish candles when leaving the room.

Outdoor lights

Plug lights into a ground fault electrical outlet.

Do not place extension cords where they can be stepped on.


Change furnace filters regularly.

Have furnaces checked by a professional.

Have chimneys cleaned by a professional chimney sweep.

Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from anything that could catch fire.

Choose space heaters that will automatically turn off if they are knocked over or overheat.

All Christmas trees must be kept away from heat vents, fireplaces and space heaters.

''Those tend to dry the tree and make it more susceptible to fire,'' Ostbloom said.

Candles are also a part of holiday decorating, which makes December the month in which the largest number of fires caused by candles is reported.

Ostbloom said candles must be kept at least a foot away from anything that might burn. He said they should be extinguished whenever people leave the room.

For some families, holiday cooking involves a turkey fryer filled with hot oil. Ostbloom said those should always be used outdoors.

Hot oil splashing out of the fryer can cause serious burns and fires. To avoid splashing, Ostbloom recommends conducting a trial run with water. He suggests filling the fryer with water and slowly lowering the turkey into it. That, he said, will show how much liquid oil can be placed in the fryer.

''Measure the displacement of the turkey so you know how much you can use before overflowing,'' he said.

The cold weather will linger after the holidays are over, and the things people use to keep their homes warm can become fire hazards.

Ostbloom said furnace filters should be changed regularly and the furnaces should be checked by a professional.

Those who use fireplaces should have their chimneys cleaned by a chimney sweep to prevent a buildup of creosote which could cause a fire, he said.

Space heaters, he said, must be at least 3 feet from anything that could catch fire. He said consumers should look for space heaters that will automatically shut off if they are tipped over or begin overheating.

Ostbloom said smoke detectors should be in every bedroom, with at least one detector on every level of a home. He also recommends having a carbon monoxide detector with a digital readout.



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