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By Christian M. Hartley
For Senior Voice 

Remember safety when celebrating the holidays


November 1, 2023 | View PDF

© Taya Johnston |

The holidays are a time for celebration with loved ones, and to share stories about the past year. However, it's important to remember that safety should always be a top priority so that we can make it to the next year's celebration, too. Bringing guests into your home can increase your risks, but there are ways to address that.

Prepare your home. Before your guests arrive, take some time to prepare your home for safety. This includes removing any tripping hazards like loose rugs or cords. Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working properly. Keep all medications and cleaning supplies out of reach of children or secure the cabinet they are in if you can't move them out of reach. If you have a pool or spa, make sure it is properly fenced and gated.

Serving food is the best part, but doing it in a sanitary way is important. Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other foods. Cook food to a safe internal temperature based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations. Poultry and fowl must be cooked to 165°F; eggs and all ground meats to 160°F; and fresh meat steaks, chops and roasts to 145°F. Refrigerate food promptly. Don't serve food from damaged cans or jars.

Children are especially vulnerable to accidents during the holidays, so it's important to supervise them closely. Keep an eye on children around candles and other open flames. Make sure children are supervised when using toys or other equipment. Be careful about leaving food and drinks unattended. Keep an eye on children around stairs and other potential hazards. If any of the children are autistic or otherwise drawn to water, make sure they cannot access your pool or nearby lakes or rivers unattended.

Be aware of your surroundings. Even though you're surrounded by loved ones during the holidays, it's important to keep an eye on your belongings, especially your purse or wallet; you don't know the internal conflicts going on among your family members. Be careful about opening the door to people you don't know who may try to use the activity level of a large group gathering to gain access. If you see something suspicious, report it to the police.

Be prepared for emergencies or crises that may pop up. The importance of having a first-aid kit on hand and knowing how to use it cannot be overstated. Make sure everybody knows what to do in the event of an emergency, whether medical or fire.

Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol can impair judgment and coordination, which can lead to accidents. Encourage guests to drink plenty of water and to pace themselves. Be careful about driving. If you've been drinking, don't drive. Instead, call a taxi or ride-sharing service.

Be aware of your guests' allergies and dietary restrictions. Make sure to have food and drinks on hand that everyone can enjoy.

Be respectful of your neighbors. Often forgotten, remember that the world exists outside of your home. Keep the noise down, be mindful of parking, and don't shoot off fireworks (if you are in an area where they are legal) at hours that will impact your neighbors and their pets. Try to communicate with them that you'll be using fireworks if you plan to, especially those with outdoor animals like horses, goats or rabbits.

Specific holiday safety tips

Halloween: Don't leave candles unattended. Don't overload electrical outlets. Unplug inflatable decorations before going to sleep. Only distribute and accept candy that is factory-sealed and purchased from a store. Dress appropriately for the weather if you will be out, and have a phone with you if you will be traveling to call for help if you need it.

Thanksgiving: Be careful when deep-frying a turkey. Use a fryer with a thermostat and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Don't overcook the turkey. The internal temperature should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving it. This will help prevent food poisoning.

Christmas: Be careful when hanging Christmas lights. Use a ladder that is in good condition and make sure to have a spotter. Don't overload electrical outlets. Keep Christmas trees watered so they don't become a fire hazard. Dispose of Christmas trees properly after the holidays.

New Year's Eve: Be careful when using fireworks. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and never light fireworks indoors. Don't drink and drive. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid crowded areas.

Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaskan resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and also serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 19 years and their three teenage sons.


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