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Fire safety for the holidays

November 28, 2017
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Recent fires in long-term care and senior housing buildings in Pennsylvania, Idaho and California stress the importance of fire safety and emergency preparedness in facilities that provide services to the elderly, sick and frail. While healthcare providers have spent a great deal of time and resources dedicated to the development of an “All Hazards” Emergency Management approach to preparedness within their operations, providers cannot forget to focus on the threat of fire as it is one of the most common perils within their community.

During the holiday season, it is critically important for individuals and organizations to maintain a clear focus on safety-related matters and to use common sense and good judgment when decorating their facilities in the spirit of the season. Here are some basic tips to remember to help ensure fire and life safety within a long-term care facility or senior living community:


It is imperative that all exits within a building are kept clear of any type of obstruction. Items like holiday trees, decorations or furniture that is rearranged to accommodate a holiday display should never compromise an exit or a pathway of egress. Do not let “seasonal design” impede exit access requirements. Such a condition represents a code violation and potential deficiency.


It’s easy to get carried away with the use of electric lighting arrangements since so many options are commercially available. However, some properties may not have the electrical capacity or the appropriate number of electrical outlets to support elaborate lighting or electronic decorations. It is extremely important to ensure electrical outlets are not overloaded and extension cords are not used to achieve a desired outcome.

Common sense is essential when setting up electric holiday decorations:

  • Power strips should not be “piggy-backed” together
  • Extension cords should not be used
  • Multiple items should not be plugged into a single outlet
  • Electrical cords should never be anywhere near sinks, drinking fountains or other sources of liquids
  • Essentially, if it looks unsafe, it probably is.

The improper use of cords and electrical devices may not only represent a fire or electrical shock hazard but also may be considered a code violation and potential deficiency by authorities having jurisdiction like the local fire marshal or the life safety surveyor.

Live decorations

While “live” or natural decorations holiday like real pine trees and wreaths add a certain ambiance to the season, they are considered unsafe and likely prohibited by code in commercial and public buildings. It is recommended that you keep live holiday decorations outside of your building but not anywhere near the exit doors or other means of emergency egress. Live decorations that are not properly hydrated are very dangerous and not worth the risk inside any building.


Stan Szpytek

President, Fire and Life Safety, Inc.

Stan Szpytek

Stan Szpytek is the president of consulting firm Fire and Life Safety, Inc., in Mesa, Arizona,...