IT IS REPORTED that Christmas is getting safer and safer. Still, every year some fires, injuries and deaths are reported. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports an estimated 2,200 Christmas decoration emergency room injuries last year-of varying degrees of serverity. Some 440 of them were associated with Christmas tree lights.
Some decorations can be harmful to children. Those made of glass can cause serious cuts. They are especially dangerous if put into the mouth. Metallic ornaments-such as tinsel and icicles-have contained lead in the past. So have Christmas wrapping paper.
Most fire safety officials suggest using common sense and following some basic advice:
If buying new Christmas lights, purchase only those bearing the label of a nationally recognized testing organization, such as Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
If you're using older lights, check the lines carefully for frayed insulation, any exposed wires, broken plugs, broken sockets and broken bulbs. The people we talked to recommended throwing out damaged lights or having them professionally repaired.
Test the lights for 10 to 15 minutes on a nonflammable surface before putting them on the three.
Do not put lights on artificial metallic trees. They can electrocute you. And use only specially insulated outdoor systems for outside use.
Do not leave the lights on overnight or when children must be lift alone.
Check all decorations-especially tinsel and icicles-an d wrappings for lead content. The CPSC promises to do tests and come up with standards for next Christmas. It also reports manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to keep the lead out. When in doubt, throw it out. Or check with the dealer.
Do not rely on fire retardant sprays or chemicals for the tree's water to prevent fire. You may find some additives that enhance the tree's absorptive qualities. But fire officials recommend instead that you buy a fresh tree and keep it moist.
When you buy a tree, check the moisture content by wrapping a needle around a finder. If it bends to the shape, rather than breaking, it is moist. You can test further by knocking the butt end of the tree once on the ground and watching for excessive needle fall-out.
Keep the tree in a shaded, wind-free area if you are not putting it up immediately. Before you put it in water; cut about an inch off the bottom so it can drink. A christmas tree can soak up as much as several quarts the first days after it is brought home. It must get additional water every 12 to 24 hours, so the container you that much water. One suggestion for a large, sturdy container is a five-gallon paint bucket filled with sand and stones or a large clay or plastic planter.
Surrender the tree to the trash men soon after the event. Do not wait until all the needles have fallen out. In some localities there's a tradition that it's bad luck to keep decorations up past New Year's Day. Like many myths, there's basis in fact.
Look for ornaments that are flame-retardant and nonirritant. If possible, buy Christmas gear bearing a testing laboratory label.
Keep small children away from ornanments, plants and wrapping paper. Popular myth for years had it that poinsettia and mistletoe were poisonous. This is not true, say government plant experts. Still, they are not like iceberg lettuce and should not be eaten.
You shouldn't throw wrapping in the fireplace-some of the wrappings can release toxic fumes. If you do anyway, don't throw it all in at once. I flames up very quickly and can backfire.
If you have not had your chimney cleaned lately, make arrangements for somewhere else where Santa can make his entry.