By Jim Knapp, Special to the Belvoir EagleDecember 2, 2011
With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday season in full swing, holiday lights and decorations have begun to appear all over the post.
However, if your Family is planning to deck the halls this season to help usher in the holiday spirit, there are a number of safety and other considerations to keep in mind, particularly if you live in base housing.
"One of the biggest dangers each holiday season is fire," said John Weaver, Fort Belvoir Fire Marshal.
The marshal offered several suggestions for reducing the risk of fire around the holidays.
"Inspect your light strands each year and discard any worn or damaged strands," Weaver said. "If you are using light strands with older incandescent bulbs, you should limit the number of strands linked together to three."
Weaver recommends using LED lights if possible, because they tend to be safer and don't produce as much heat.
"Make sure to avoid overloading wall sockets or extension cords," he said. "If you put up lights around a window, make sure that the window can still open and close freely."
Weaver also advises inspecting the wiring of other holiday decorations like electric villages, model trains, etc.
Christmas tree fires - which can affect both natural and artificial tress - are an area of particular concern each holiday season.
"Nationally, Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in 6 deaths, 25 injuries, and more than $6 million in property damage," Weaver said. "You can reduce the risk of a tree fire by making sure that the tree is secured with a wire so that it can't tip over and by keeping the tree well away from any heat sources. Be sure to turn the tree lights off whenever you go to bed or leave the house. A six-foot tree will use one gallon of water every two days, so water it often to prevent it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. And never, under any circumstances, use candles to decorate a tree."
Weaver also cautions against erecting a tree in an area where it is likely to affect pathways or points of egress.
"Most people put their trees at the bottom of the stairs or in the window next to the front door," he explained. "However, this is a bad idea, because it could potentially block the main exit from the home in case of a fire."
In addition to these generally-applicable safety guidelines, people who live in housing on the post are required to abide by the following holiday decorating guidelines contained in the Villages at Belvoir's Resident Responsibility Guide.
According to the guide, "Outside lighting must be Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved and factory listed for outside use. Running electric cords through windows and doors, or across heating ducts or vent systems is prohibited, as this causes a fire safety hazard. All exterior lighting must be 'GFI' protected. Residents are reminded that homes have limited amp circuits and care must be taken to prevent overloading."
The guidelines also prohibits placing decorations "higher than the edge of the roof gutter. The use of staples, nails, screws, or other mechanical fasteners to attach decorations or lighting to the homes and associated structures is prohibited.
"Plastic clip-on hooks may be commercially obtained and used to attach decorative lighting, garlands, etc. Attachment of anything to vinyl siding is prohibited. Additionally, electrical decorations must be unplugged when residents are away from the home."
Finally, the guidelines state that holiday lighting "must be removed no later than January 10th. Outside decorative lights are to be turned off no later than midnight, except on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when they are allowed to remain on overnight. Outside lights are not authorized during daylight hours."