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Prevent household fires this holiday season

The Fire Prevention Officer at Collingwood Fire Department shares his tips for staying safe

With the holiday season upon us, the Town of Collingwood is taking the opportunity to remind residents about common fire hazards— some old and some new.

When it comes to putting up your holiday lights, be sure to toss any damaged strings to avoid electrical fires. LED lights are preferable, as they run much cooler than their old incandescent counterparts. “Holiday lights have changed. They’re all LED now. So we’re getting better in some areas,” says Jeff Gage, Fire Prevention Officer at Collingwood Fire Department.

Jeff encourages everyone to check that they have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. House fires in Canada are most likely to occur between December and March. There should be a smoke alarm outside all sleeping areas and on every storey of your home that is tested monthly and has its batteries replaced every year. Although some may put off checking their alarms, Jeff equates it to wearing a seatbelt. “That saves your life. So will this.”

If you’re planning on getting a real Christmas tree this year, make sure you water it and keep it away from heat sources such as furnace vents and non-LED lights. Ensure that candles are kept away from the tree, curtains, other decorations, and children and pets who may knock them over. Better yet, battery-operated candles are a safer alternative.

Speaking of batteries, Jeff has a particular message he wants to spread for the holidays and year-round.

“What we’ve been trying to drive home is that as people are getting new devices for Christmas. We want to make sure they’re using the appropriate charging cable for the device. I know that times are tough financially for a lot of people; things seem to be super expensive. But the thing that we try to have people stay clear of is purchasing “knock-off” chargers. The cords that came from the manufacturer that supplied your device is specifically designed to work with that device. When you buy something that hasn’t gone through that testing, you’re not necessarily going to get the same quality.”

When devices with lithium batteries are charging, that’s when the risk of “thermal runaway” is possible. Thermal runaway can occur when a battery is damaged, causing a battery cell to short circuit and heat up rapidly. “If you put your phone down on the counter and it wobbles back and forth, that tells you that there’s something going on. That tells you that the battery’s expanding and you need to have it serviced,” says Jeff. 

Thermal runaway can cause a chemical fire, which requires a chemical fire extinguisher to put it out.

For these reasons, Jeff suggests charging your phone before going to bed, rather than charging it next to you as you sleep. As for other devices that use lithium batteries, Jeff recommends not leaving your laptop on a soft surface like a bed or couch as it charges. The cooling fan is on the bottom of the laptop and requires airflow to do its job and look after the battery.

As we all learned from the movie “Christmas Vacation,” it’s important not to overload a circuit in your home. You also shouldn’t run your extension cords under rugs. Just as with phone chargers, when you buy a cheap extension cord, it may not be made to the proper safety standards and could overheat.

17% of fires in Ontario are cooking-related, often when the stove is left unattended. Be sure to stay focused and keep multi-tasking to a minimum so you can keep an eye on that delicious holiday meal.

If some Collingwood residents aren’t aware of the condition of their smoke alarms, the Collingwood Fire Department runs a program called Alarms for Life, in which they go door-to-door checking smoke alarms.

“Especially in a community like ours, we have a lot of elderly and retired people who don’t necessarily have the ability to check their devices, so we come to their door, we ask them a few questions, and if they want to let us in we can go in and make sure they’re good to go,” says Jeff.

This holiday season, perhaps the greatest gift of all would be to help your friends, family and neighbours check their alarms and make a home escape plan in case of fire. Collectively, it could make a huge impact.

If you have questions or want more information, contact the Collingwood Fire Department Fire Prevention Division at 705-445-3920 or visit them online here.