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Christmas Light Safety

December 9, 2011

We love Christmas lights and I’ve got them up at my house.  There’s a little history to how we got the strings of lights we enjoy today.

The practice of using candles to light a Christmas tree reportedly goes back to the 17th century.  Around 1890 people began using candle holders to try and keep the candle flames separate from the tree.  In 1882 an inventor named Edward Johnson (who worked for Thomas Edison) lashed 80 electric lights together on a Christmas tree in New York.  In 1895 President Grover Cleveland put electric lights on the official White House Christmas tree and tremendous public interest in electric Christmas lights grew.  Edison produced hand-blown Christmas light bulbs through his company, General Electric, and businesses began using Christmas tree lights to attract attention as part of holiday mercantile displays.

In 1917 a young man named Albert Sadacca learned of a fire in New York City caused by a poor family that could not afford Christmas lights and used candles instead.  Sadacca’s father used small colored light bulbs for bird cage lights.  Sadacca used these bulbs to create affordable Christmas lights.  He and his brothers formed the NOMA Electric Company to sell the product and up until the 1960’s NOMA was the world’s largest supplier of Christmas lights.

There are a number of safety tips we all should observe to keep our Christmas merry and bright rather than charred and smoky:

  1. Check strings of Christmas lights for frayed cords, wires that have pulled out, or damaged sockets.  Replace any damaged light strings with new and throw damaged strings away.
  2. Ensure the lights are rated for what you’re using them for.  Indoor lights are not designed for outdoor use.
  3. Don’t string too many light strings together.  Most manufacturers recommend no more than two or three strings of lights hooked together.  Using more may run more current through the wires than they’re rated for.  Overheating and fire can result.
  4. If a bulb burns out, replace it.  Do not remove bulbs and leave light sockets empty!  That leaves a 110 volt live contact open for anyone or anything to contact.
  5. Use extension cords carefully.  Cords are rated for certain amperages.  The extension cord must be rated for the total of all light strings plugged into it.  If you overload the extension cord, it will overheat and may cause a fire.
  6. Don’t put electric lights on a metal tree.  Any short circuits can energize the entire Christmas tree and anyone touching it will get electrocuted.
  7. Turn lights off when you’re not there watching them (and awake to watch them).  That way any problems get noticed immediately and you can take action (like calling 911, getting your family out to safety, etc.).

If you’ve got questions about holiday fire safety, you can leave a comment here, or e-mail us at dbleeker@scfd9.org, or you can call at 509-466-4602.

REFERENCES:

Brouhard, R.  (2008).  Christmas light safety.  Retrieved December 6, 2011 from http://firstaid.about.com/od/injuriesathome/qt/06_xmaslights.htm

Hinders, D.  (n.d.).  Christmas lights history.  Retrieved December 6, 2011 from http://christmas.lovetoknow.com/Christmas_Lights_History

White, M.  (n.d.).  Christmas light safety.  Retrieved December 6, 2011 from http://safety.lovetoknow.com/Christmas_Light_Safety

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.  (n.d.).  Holiday decoration safety tips. [Brochure].  Washington DC: Author.

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