The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Friday, November 30, 2001
Some safety tips for handling Christmas trees, lights and ornaments

By Rick Ryckeley
Fayette County Fire & Emergency Services

Every year my son and I make the annual trek to a nearby Christmas tree farm. This year is no different. Armed with saw in hand, we set out on our journey through the trees not yet aware of just what a journey it would be. Holidays are for families to be together, to enjoy each other's company and share good times.

The holidays are not to be spending time in a doctor's office or a hospital due to a careless injury associated with decorations or Christmas trees. Many accidents (such as a child swallowing pieces of broken ornaments or family members burned in holiday home fires) can be traced to unsafe or improper use of decorations and lights. Some fires can be attributed to unsafe lights on dry Christmas trees, but some injuries can happen even before the tree gets to the house.

My son and I made our way through the maze of trees until we came upon the perfect one. The tree was not too tall and not too short. It was a pudgy tree that would fit just right in our front room. The boy wanted to cut down the tree, but I would not let him because he had a broken right thumb. I told him to hold the tree while I used the saw to cut it down.

Holding the tree with my left hand and the saw with my right, I started to cut our pudgy little tree down. We were almost through cutting when a bee came around and started to chase the boy all over the tree lot. I was having such a good time laughing at him running from the bee that I cut through my left hand with the saw. I fell down, grabbing my hand, and the pudgy tree fell on top of me. Now the Boy was laughing at me. When he realized that I was not clowning around and I was actually hurt, he found my cell phone on the ground and called 911.

When buying a natural tree, if you don't cut it down yourself, make sure it is a fresh one. One way to tell if your tree is fresh is the elasticity of the needles. Needles bent between fingers will not break if they are fresh, but dried out needles will.

Another sign of a dry tree is that it will lose many needles when tapped on the ground. Dry trees may be sprayed green to improve appearance so ask the attendant if this has been done prior to your purchase. The tree should also have a new cut off of the bottom before you take it off the lot. The attendant will gladly do this at no extra charge. The new cut will enable the tree to draw water up from its base.

Remember that when a tree is cut down, it is dead and it still needs water. When you get your tree home, make sure that you water it every day. Fresh trees will drink almost a half-gallon of water in 24 hours. Make sure that two inches of the tree stump is always covered, and use a wide stable base with a large well for a tree holder. Also, place your new tree far away from any heat source. If you have an artificial tree that is "fire-resistant," it too needs to be well away from any heat. The fire resistant label means that it will not catch fire easily, but like real trees, they also will burn.

When the ambulance came, the paramedics bandaged my hand and we climbed into the back of the ambulance. The boy asked, "Can I ride with my Dad?"

The paramedic said, "Yes."

The Boy then asked, "Can we bring the Christmas tree?"

The paramedic said, "No."

My wife was at the hospital when we arrived. I found out later that she was one of many cell phone calls the boy had made from the front of the ambulance. (He now wants a cell phone for Christmas. I told him to call Santa and talk to him.)

My wife sat by my side the whole time I was in the emergency room. She gave comfort as the doctor conducted his exam and cleaned my cut. She was great, a real trooper until the doctor started the ninth suture. She went pale, sank back into her chair, and all at once she had three nurses around her and all of my doctor's attention.

Do not use broken ornaments or ornaments that have small removable parts on your tree. These could become a choking hazard to small children. Keep all ornaments off of lower branches of the tree where they could be easily reached by little hands. Any ornaments and tree trimmings you use should be flame-resistant or non-combustible.

Many old ornaments that have been handed down for generations, old types of tinsel, and artificial icicles are not safe. These old tree decorations could contain lead, and you should discard them if their composition is not known. If lights are used on your tree remember that hand-me-down lights might be sentimental but not very safe. Bulbs should never be in contact with needles or the branches of the tree.

Before leaving the house, always unplug your Christmas tree lights from the wall. Old lights that do not have a UL label, have frayed wires, or have loose or broken sockets should never be used on your tree.

Christmas tree lights should never be used outside. Outside lights will be labeled for outside use only and will be weather-proof. A dried-out Christmas tree can become a ball of fire in less than one minute, so when your tree starts to drop needles in large quantities, you should take it down and recycle it.

My wife is okay; she just went pale and felt faint. One cold compress to the forehead, and she was fine. After thirteen stitches and an $850 hospital bill, I'm also okay.

We still don't have a Christmas tree, but I guess there is always next weekend. I think we will have an artificial one this year.

Rick Ryckeley is employed full-time with Fayette County Fire and Emergency Services. He can be reached at]

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