Fire Chief Hopes To Keep Wreath Red

The Herald News Online - Joliet, IL

JOLIET -- Every year Fire Chief Joe Drick checks out the new Christmas lights in the stores.

"I do keep an eye out on it. I see things getting better. I love these rope lights. They are sealed in plastic. They are low-voltage. They come on a strand of 50 feet -- they almost look like a rope," Drick said.

"Thirty years ago, we were hanging bulbs and stringing about 100 all over the place," he said. "Now, the Italian lights are very energy efficient. It is much more fire safe than 10 years ago."

For nine years, the Joliet Fire Department has hung a wreath with red lights at each of its fire stations to remind people of the importance of fire safety during the holiday season.

If they all remain red until January, that means there wasn't a fire caused by holiday lights or decorations. If there is a fire, a bulb in the wreath will be changed from red to white at all eight fire stations.

About 400 fires a year in the United States are caused by Christmas trees, said Joe Levey, education coordinator for the New Lenox Fire Department. These fires cause deaths and injuries and more than $103 million in property damage.

Drick said he heard on the radio that the U.S. Forestry Service said household Christmas trees can draw one quart of water every day, which means a fresh tree needs water replaced every day or it will get dried up and a fire could start.

A short in a cord or the heat on some Christmas lights could generate enough heat to start a fire, Drick said.

"A dry Christmas tree burns almost as fast as a gallon of gasoline spread across the floor," Drick said.

One can see signs at fire departments throughout Illinois promoting the "Keep the Wreath Red" campaign.

"The purpose of this campaign is to remind everyone that the happiness of the holiday season can be forever changed in a moment by fire. Common sense and awareness of fire threats can help to keep our wreaths red," Drick said.

In nine years, Joliet has had to change one red light bulb to white, Drick said.

"It had to do with a holiday candle," Drick said. "Open flames from candles can be a serious fire hazard year-round, but especially around the holiday season."

Drick suggests using a broad-base candle that is enclosed in a glass container.

"The problem that we see is with the stick candles. ... They easily tip over, and because they are relatively high, the flame is then open, and they are more susceptible to come into contact with a combustible product," Drick said.

It is always important to shut off Christmas lights and blow out candles when someone is not at home.

"Our Hispanic community uses candles year-round in their homes, and we have lost a couple of houses. ... Many times the folks are not at home when the fire begins," Drick said.