The University Record, December 10, 1996

Tips from DPS can keep your holiday safe from accidental fire

Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah last week ushered in the winter holiday season in earnest and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) reminds the U-M community to keep safety a priority during the holidays.

"There are some very simple things people can do to ensure a safe holiday season, especially when it comes to preventing fires," says U-M Fire Marshal Robert Patrick, associate director of the DPS.

The National Fire Protection Association prohibits the use of live trees in educational, assembly, health care, hotel, apartment and dormitory facilities. The use of natural trees is prohibited in University buildings, according to Patrick. The only exception, he says, is balled and potted trees, which must be kept moist.

Patrick also offers the following safety tips for preventing holiday fires:


Open flames, such as candles, are prohibited on University property. Menorahs are allowed only if they have battery-operated lights rather than candles.


Only plastic trees labeled flame resistant by a recognized testing laboratory should be used. Metallic trees, such as the aluminum alloy type are prohibited by code to be decorated with electric lights. Patrick suggests using a remote floodlight to illuminate metallic trees.


As a rule of thumb, natural trees (for home use) should not be set up earlier than 10 days before Christmas and should be taken down immediately after Christmas. Cutting the bottom inch off the trunk enables the tree to absorb more water and keeps the needles fresher.

The holder should have an always-filled water reservoir. The tree should be substantially supported and located in a remote area of a room, where it won't block an exit from the room or house.


Lights used anywhere should be Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approved and checked for safety before installation. This includes checking for cracked or broken sockets, loose plugs or connectors, and bare wires.

Before installing lights, place them on a nonflammable surface and plug them in for 10-15 minutes. Then check for smoking and melting of electrical parts.

No more than 200 miniature lights or 50 larger lights should be connected through one cord.


Using non-combustible decorating materials, such as metal or glass, will lessen the chance of a fire. Avoid using untreated materials, such as cotton batting, paper, cloth and dried plants because they ignite easily and burn intensely.

Avoid using polystyrene foam for candle holders or other decorations. Oil paints and flammable liquids also should not be used.


Wrapping paper and other wrapping materials should not be burned in a fireplace but disposed of promptly in a metal trash container.

Questions or concerns about holiday safety may be directed to DPS at 763-3434.