Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we see a huge amount of Christmas fires in the UK; from 2017 to 2019, fire services attended around 2300 fires on Christmas Day. The food and festivities, drunken uncles and the cheery atmosphere seem to be the perfect kindling for a fire. So in the spirit of raising fire awareness, here are our 12 days of Christmas Fire Safety. We hope that these tips will help you celebrate a safe and enjoyable festive season.
1st Day – Office Smoke Detectors
How does that old yuletide chorus go? ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a smoke alarm with matching batteries?’ Whilst it might not have quite the same ring (or five) to it as the original, it’s a good lyric to remember. Fire safety in the workplace is no joke.
Before you leave the office on the 24th, ensure that you fulfil your legal requirement to maintain a functional fire detection system. It would be a good idea to change the batteries, too. Arson, one of the most common causes of workplace fire, is most likely when people are out of the office for an extended period.
2nd Day – Office Christmas Decorations
Picture the scene. The office Christmas party is in full swing. Hastily-bought decorations adorn the walls, trays of food cover the desks and the poor Christmas tree is in the wars. Unfortunately, this chaos isn’t what an office is made for. It almost certainly isn’t included in your workplace fire risk assessment. Stacks of office paper + tree + paper decorations = copious potential fuel.
If there were to be a fire in the office during the party, it would have more room to grow and more fuel to consume. Be aware of how turning your workspace into a party space could make it more dangerous (not to ruin the fun). For example, buy an artificial, flame-retardant Christmas tree, as it’s far safer.
3rd Day – Alcohol Consumption at Christmas
This ties in quite nicely with alcohol consumption over Christmas, which can be dangerous for two reasons. Primarily, it impairs decision-making. On the final day of work before break, an eagerness to turn on the music and Christmas lights could lead to overloaded plug sockets. This is one of the most common causes of workplace electrical fires.
Secondly, remember that brandy, rum and other traditional christmas spirits are extremely flammable. If your office enjoys a traditional christmas lunch, the lighting of the christmas pudding could quickly turn hazardous.
4th Day – Surge Protectors
Christmas is an indoor event. Whilst you may have the whole family over, chances are you’ll stay cramped and cosy inside, rather than out in the cold. Consequently, your energy usage increases massively over Christmas.
Even before the family comes over, electric decorations, ovens and televisions are often in use for long periods of time during the holiday period. Add in your cousin’s new playstation and a family’s worth of phone chargers and you’ll be soon asking for a lot from your plug extension cables. These can very easily overheat. Spread your appliances throughout the house and invest in some surge protectors, to protect any overloaded plug extensions from electrical spikes.
5th Day – Timers
Christmas decorations can, by their very nature, be problematic. Tangled fairy lights and battered old reindeers can all pose a risk. Even when fully functional, these decorations place huge demand on your electrical system, particularly flickering lights. Add in some faulty, exposed and/or untested wiring and you could have a real issue.
Ensure that you hook your Christmas decorations up to some timers. When you go to bed and forget to turn your lights off, you could be endangering those in the house and wasting huge amounts of energy. Traditional timers work fine. However, you can also now easily control smart bulbs and timers from your phone. Worry about everything else on our 12 Days of Christmas Fire Safety; with timers, just set them and forget them.
6th Day – Candles
There’s a certain cosiness to Christmas; the inside warmth, the low light and the food all create an intangible festive atmosphere. In Denmark, they have a word for it – Hygge. One of the biggest contributors to this feeling of cosiness is candlelight. There’s something comforting and calming about a candle’s warmth protecting us from whatever may be waiting outside in the cold.
However, in London alone, there were 200 fires caused by candlelight in 2020. If you do light candles over Christmas, mount them safely in stable candlesticks, which are difficult to knock over. Furthermore, you should only keep them lit in rooms you’re using, so they can be constantly monitored.
7th Day – Domestic Smoke Alarms
We’ve already mentioned how you absolutely must keep a well-functioning fire detection system in your workplace. However, smoke detectors are also absolutely necessary in the home, too, especially (but not exclusively) at Christmas.
The chaos of a Christmas kitchen is near-unrivalled. Potatoes are roasting, the turkey is waiting and someone is giving far too much attention to the bread sauce. When the smoke alarm inevitably goes off, it’s enough to draw a collective groan from the whole family. However, do not take the batteries out of the alarm. In fact, it’s good practice to replace your batteries around Christmas every year, as it’s often the most demanding time for a smoke alarm. Additionally, smoke alarms often ring more when their batteries are running out, so it’ll likely save you some Christmas earache.
8th Day – Fire Blankets
Speaking of which, perhaps it would be wise to invest in a fire blanket. You’re often likely to see them in commercial kitchens, mounted on a wall within easy access. In a restaurant kitchen, there’s obviously a good reason for this; the sheer amount of cooking appliances working at high heat in a high-pressure environment means that fire is more likely. Yet for some reason, we often don’t consider having a fire blanket in our own kitchen.
Whilst it may look unseemly (though it doesn’t have to be wall-mounted), it actually makes a lot of sense, particularly at Christmas. Domestic kitchens aren’t as robust or well-designed as a commercial kitchen. So, when you’re cooking for 12 at Christmas, with every gadget in use and your attention divided, you’re really testing the limits of your appliances and greatly increasing the chance of fire. Having a fire blanket on hand could help you easily tackle any small fire, before it gets out of hand.
9th Day – Outdoor Decorations
We often keep outdoor decorations for years; it really starts to feel like Christmas when the glowing Santa gets put up above the kitchen window.
However, we often don’t have the best storage conditions. Damp, cold garages might see mice chewing through wires or water-damaged bulbs and when they’re up outside, rain and snow can easily penetrate older, more fragile Christmas lights. This could cause power failures, electric shocks and fires.
To avoid this, you should use decorations designed for the outdoors and cover their electrical supplies with plastic sheeting. Whilst you don’t have to get your lights PAT-tested, running over them with an electrician’s multimeter may also be a good idea. However, a simple visual check for frayed wires and good maintenance practices should be more than enough to keep your lighting safe.
10th Day – Looking after the vulnerable
Tenth in our 12 Days of Christmas Fire Safety is, in the festive spirit, looking after others. The elderly, people with disabilities or mobility issues may need help to ensure their safety. Moreover, they may not have the energy or ability to perform maintenance themselves. In some areas of the UK, you can register for a free home fire safety check; the majority of UK fire services provide free smoke alarms and fitting services to vulnerable people.
You can help by ensuring that safety ramps are fitted where necessary and in good repair, smoke detectors are tested if and strobe fire alarms considered if the person is hearing-impaired. These small favours can keep vulnerable people safe over the holiday season.
11th Day – Fireworks
As we near the end of the Christmas season, many are doubtless looking forward to the year ahead. New Year’s celebrations are just as good a reason as Christmas to throw a party and go all out. Whether you love them or hate them, that means the fireworks are coming out.
We often attend New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, perhaps foolishly, in our back gardens rather than at organised events. If you are having a firework display, keep safe by following the Firework Code, use certified fireworks, read instructions and plan everything thoroughly.
12th Day – Stay Vigilant
For the final day of Christmas, we’ll keep it short and thematic. Stay vigilant! Understanding what causes fire is vital to preventing it. Constantly monitor your use of electricity, heating, cooking appliances and open flames. Whilst we’ve tried to keep our 12 Days of Christmas Fire Safety light and enjoyable, it’s important to understand that fire safety is a very serious matter. Stay aware and keep your friends and family safe and you’ll be certain to have a great festive season.
Oh, and Merry Christmas!