Fire safety for the holidays

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.

Open flames

Candles are commercially available in every shape, fragrance and size. Simply stated, “Candles start fires.” There has been an alarming increase in candle-related fires in recent years, clearly showing how dangerous these items really are. Almost every fire safety professional will agree that when it comes to candles or any type of decoration with an open flame, the benefits are simply not worth the risk. If candles are used within your building for any reason, they must be constantly monitored and given plenty of clearance. Typically, the only time that you would use candles is for a supervised religious ceremony or on top of a birthday cake during a supervised celebration. There are so many faux candle devices that are commercially available today that look realistic and are a much better option than ever considering the use of an open flame candle.

Fire protection systems

Occupants of a building may think that a fire sprinkler head or smoke detector mounted on the ceiling or wall is a great spot to hang some garland, mistletoe or other holiday decorations, but this should never be allowed. In accordance with fire codes, standards and regulations, nothing should be hanging or attached to these critical life-saving devices. Occupants and staff must resist the urge to use features of fire protection systems (sprinkler heads, smoke detectors, horn/strobes, pull stations, etc.) as anchor points for decorations. These devices must be maintained in a condition that is free and clear of all obstructions that could compromise their performance during an emergency situation.

These safety tips are being shared to help ensure that the holidays as well as every day of the year is full of joy, fun and laughter in every community. Please remember to incorporate common sense, safe practices and regulations in every aspect of your community’s holiday festivities.

Topics: Executive Leadership , Risk Management