St. Pete Fire & Rescue warns of possible holiday fire hazards

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Tis the season to be jolly. Tis also the season to set homes ablaze. Between December 1, 2013 and January 2, 2014 there were 68 fire incidents dispatched in the St. Petersburg District.

With Christmas trees lined with lights, homes loading electrical outlets to capacity and kitchens getting used more than usual to prepare holiday meals, house fires are all too common this time of year.

It’s also a common season for other holiday-related accidents both at home and on the road. St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue is asking families to take precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe this holiday season.

Batteries in smoke detectors should have been changed with the clocks back in October, but it’s never a bad idea to check to make sure they are in working order. Lana Stevanovic, St. Pete Fire and Rescue’s public education specialist, points out that most home fires during the holidays are a result of people leaving food cooking on a hot stove after they go to bed. If the worst should happen, smoke detectors can be life saving in getting occupants out of the home before it’s too late.

“Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food,” Stevanovic recommends to avoid any fire hazards.

The department also advises people to avoid keeping items on top of stoves in the kitchen. This seems a no-brainer, but it is often easy to forget that stack of paper plates laying on the stove when a busy cook is hard at work in the kitchen.

Christmas lights are safer now than they once were and don’t get quite as hot. This cuts down on fire hazards, but there is still a risk. The St. Pete fire department recommends using only indoor lights inside and only outdoor lights outside. Again, a seemingly no-brainer but one that could save families from a devastating fire.

This time of year is also popular for Jewish families celebrating Hanukah. The Jewish holiday celebrates using candles. Stevanovic says to keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children and to store them up high in a locked cabinet – never leave children alone in room with a lit a candle.

Should the unthinkable happen and a fire breakout, Stevanovic says families should have a home escape plan with two ways out of each room in the house.

“Create a meeting place, somewhere nearby that is easy to find both in the day and night. This can be a neighbor’s porch, a tree, or a telephone pole,” she said.

Stevanovic adds, even though it may be hard, victims of a house fire should not waste time getting personal belongings or pets and “when you get out, stay out.” Never go back into a burning house or building.

When it comes to staying safe, kids can help too.

“Have your children tell you when they find matches and lighters,” she said. “Teach children the nature of fire. It is FAST, HOT, DARK and DEADLY! Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy.”

St. Pete Fire & Rescue offers free smoke detectors to families who need them. Residents can also get batteries for smoke detectors by calling St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue’s HomeSAFE hotline at 727-893-SAFE.

Stevanovic notes fires aren’t the only threat during the holiday season. Traffic accidents are also on the rise.

“More than half of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related,” Stevanovic said. “Being a smart party host or guest should include being sensible about alcoholic drinks.”

She said people enjoying holiday parties or other drinking-related festivities should use designated drivers to ensure safety.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email