Baltimore County Now
Natalie Litofsky, Public Safety Office of Media and Communications
If you’re planning to take a vacation this holiday season, it’s important for you to add home security to your travel safety checklist. There are simple precautions you can take to keep your home protected from both theft and damage. Just a few extra minutes spent securing your home will help give you the peace of mind to enjoy your trip.
Lock all doors and windows
While most people remember to lock the main door of the home, it’s important to check all the entry points to the house. This includes sliding doors, basement doors, and the interior door that leads to the garage. It’s also essential to lock the windows on each level of your home, not just the ground floor.
Turn off electronics
To help save on energy costs and avoid potential hazards, turn off and unplug small electronics while you’re away. Examples would be items such as a toaster, coffee maker, hair dryer or fan. Larger electronics such as computers and televisions should be plugged into a surge protector in case of sudden power loss.
Water and heat
If you live in an area where pipes are likely to freeze, it’s important to make sure your furnace stays running while you’re away. Most programmable thermostats have a “vacation mode” that will keep your home above freezing while still conserving energy. If you plan to be away for an extended period of time, you may want to consider turning off the water supply from outside your home and draining the pipes.
Perform a maintenance check
Check to be sure there are fresh batteries in your smoke detectors. Make sure that exterior lights have working bulbs to keep the property illuminated at night, and use a timer to turn them on and off. You should also prepare for the possibility of snow while you’re on vacation. Arrange for someone to shovel your walkways and driveway while you’re out of town. Not only is this important for the safety of your neighbors, but it also prevents would-be burglars from knowing the home is not occupied.
Notify a neighbor
Tell a trusted neighbor the dates you’re leaving and returning home. If they know you’re out of town, they’ll be more likely to notice and report suspicious activity. If you’ll be away for more than a day, ask if they’re willing to collect your mail and newspapers. A pile of unclaimed mail is a red flag for would-be thieves that nobody is home. If there is no one available to collect your mail, you can also speak with the post office about stopping mail delivery for the duration of your trip.
Don’t broadcast your location
Social media sites are great ways to keep in touch with friends and family, but they’re also great tools for burglars to use in choosing targets. Don’t post photos or statements that would let someone know that you’re away from home. You should also refrain from using a location “check-in” app that places you out of town. If you want to keep in touch with a friend or family member while you’re away, do so using a more private form of communication such as an email or text message.
Louise Rogers-Feher, Public Safety Office of Media and Communications
Candles and lights, synonymous with the holiday season, can pose a risk to safety. The Baltimore County Fire Department asks everyone to follow basic precautions as we move into the holiday season.
Candles pose one of the most serious home fire risks – especially during the holidays. During a five-year period, 2007-2011, a national average of 29 home candle fires was reported every day. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are over twice as many home fires caused by candles in December compared to the other months of the year. We are in the peak time of year for home candle fires as they are left unattended or placed too close to holiday decorations.
Candle placement is important. Never place a candle near curtains. A slight breeze coming from a window or door could easily ignite the curtain and start a fire. Set candles on stable surfaces. Aunt Mae’s antique table may look pretty but is it sturdy enough to take a bump without spilling over the candle?
Don’t leave candles lit when you’re not around. If you’re leaving the room, snuff or blow out the candles.
To get the most light from your candle, use a glass hurricane cover. They reflect the light giving a brighter glow. They are both pretty and safe.
Tea light candles should not be set out on their own. There are many safe and festive tea light holders that will fit any décor.
Never leave children or pets alone in a room with lit candles. Beyond the threat of fire, melted wax can cause severe burns.
The best way to avoid a problem is to invest in battery powered candles. They glow bright without risk of fire.
Bright lights and safety
Electric lights pose different problems. The NFPA states electrical problems were factors in one third of Christmas tree structure fires.
Always buy lights that are indoor and outdoor approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Throw away light sets with frayed wires. An exposed wire could cause a fire. You aren’t saving money if you wrap a light socket or frayed wire with electrical tape. And really, it looks bad.
When stringing outdoor lights, only use lights meant for the outdoors. Outdoor lights have plugs and sockets that are weatherproof. Rain, snow and wind can tear up decorations and pose an electrical hazard unless you use lights specifically designed for outdoor use.
The type of extension cord you use is important. Use a cord that is the right length for the job. Don’t connect one extension cord to another.
While you might want to hide the power or extension cords, don’t put them under rugs, carpets or furniture because this poses a fire hazard.
Common sense tells us not to run power cords or extension cords in high traffic areas. Someone could trip and pull the power plug out of the socket.
When using extension cords for outside lights and decorations, be sure that you’re using cords that are meant for outside.
Recycle your tree
Trees tell us when they’re done. Needles fall off. That’s your cue to get rid of the tree. The County will pick up trees at your house after Christmas and recycle them into mulch. It’s easy for you and great for the environment.
Enjoy the holidays.
Battalion Chief Jennifer Utz
Everyone has a favorite time of year, and although I no longer welcome the cold Maryland winters, I do long for December. For me, it is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Whether cutting down a Christmas tree, decorating the house, baking cookies or socializing with friends, I couldn’t find more happiness than I do during this time of year.
Still, as I relax by the fire, watch the lights glimmer and listen to the sounds of the season, I am reminded of the danger that all of this beauty can bring. In my nearly 14 years with the Baltimore County Fire Department, I have witnessed a lot of misfortune – but it is especially devastating when fires happen at such a wonderful time of year.
The good news is that fire is preventable. Here are reminders to keep your family safe as you celebrate.
· Cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of house fires and associated injuries. When cooking your holiday favorites, stay in the kitchen at all times. Do not let children near ovens and range tops. If the oven catches fire, turn it off, keep the door closed and call 911. Always keep a lid nearby if a pot catches fire; use the lid to smother the fire. Never put water on a grease fire; it will spread the fire! Get out of the house, and stay out until the fire department arrives.
· Decorations: Look for packages marked as flame resistant or retardant. Always keep combustible decorations away from any type of heat source. If you are using mini lights, string no more than three sets together and make sure the cords are not damaged. If you choose screw-in bulbs, use no more than 50 per set; and always check the manufacturers label on LED light sets for directions. Keep extension cords to a minimum, never run them under carpets, and if used outside keep plugs and cords free from standing water or snow. Do not use nails to hang lights, always use clips that won’t damage or cut through the cords. Call an electrician if lights flicker or fuses blow. Finally, always turn off lights and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.
· Candles: Keep open flame candles at least 12 inches from anything that can catch fire. Watch children and pets carefully when using candles. Use a sturdy candle holder. Consider electric or flameless candles.
· Christmas Trees: The smell and tradition of a fresh cut tree is priceless. If your family chooses a live tree, keep it watered daily. Always unplug the lights before going to bed or leaving the home, and keep the tree at least three feet from heat sources.
· Carbon Monoxide: One final warning during this holiday season is to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. A faulty furnace, water heater or other gas appliance can emit carbon monoxide. Clogged chimneys, running vehicles and generators too close to the house also will cause a buildup of this deadly gas.
As you celebrate the holidays and spend time with family, remember these tips and stay safe!