Many Holiday Accidents Are Preventable

Two Rim Country residents died from carbon monoxide leaking into their homes last year


’Tis the season for the holidays, but it’s also a time local emergency workers see a host of different preventable accidents.

There are falls from stepladders as people string holiday lights, sparks from overloaded power strips, and leaking carbon monoxide from broken furnaces.

Last year, two people in Payson died from toxic levels of carbon monoxide leaking in their homes, said Fire Chief Marty deMasi.

In one case, a small fire started in the attic after an electrical short ignited the insulation. Because the fire was small and smoldered for days, lethal carbon monoxide was leaked into the home through the ceiling, killing the homeowner.

Another homeowner died from an improperly vented furnace that slowly leaked the toxic gas. Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, it often goes undetected by a homeowner if they do not have a carbon monoxide alarm, officials said.

deMasi said if you have flu-like symptoms, but without a fever, carbon monoxide could be in your home.

“If more than one person feels ill, that is a real clue, and if you feel better when you leave the residence,” deMasi said. The fire department receives several calls a year from ill homeowners who turn out to be suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide.

Nearly 5,000 people are treated each year in emergency rooms for carbon monoxide poisoning, according to SCF Arizona.

deMasi said if you plan to have a furnace installed or repaired, it is important the installer is certified. If you use a non-electrical room heater, furnace, stove, fireplace or wood-burning stove, it is a good idea to install a carbon monoxide detector as well as a smoke detector, deMasi said.

Fires during the holidays kill more than 400 people and injure 1,700 people nationwide, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The main causes of fires are related to Christmas trees, holiday lights, candles and fireplaces.

The Payson Fire Department receives several calls a year for chimney and wood burning stove fires.

“In these times, it might be more economical for some homeowners to burn wood, but they may not have done it in a while, so they might not know how to use it or they need to clean it and learn to use it,” he said.

Chimneys need to be swept once a year to clear ash, leaves or bird nests that have accumulated during the year.

Hospitals see an influx of patients during the winter months, mainly from falls.

Shelley Dunman, assistant to the chief nursing officer at Payson Regional Medical Center, said more people fall during the winter from slips and stepladders.

“One thing that is always a concern is falls, and anything people can do to avoid that,” Dunman said. “Be sure that if you’re walking in the shade, you’re aware that there could be ice on the ground and that you could slip, so you need to wear better shoeing.”

Falls are common for all age groups and not isolated to the elderly, Dunman said.

SCF Arizona suggests these safety precautions when using a ladder at work or home.

• Use a sturdy ladder approved by a testing agency. Do not use chairs or other furniture in lieu of a ladder.

• When using a ladder to put up lights around the house, avoid obstructions such as tree branches and power lines.

• Place the ladder on level ground and be sure to use the four-to-one rule: for every 4 feet between the ground and the upper point of ladder contact, move the ladder’s base 1 foot from the base of the building.

• Always face the ladder when climbing.

• Keep your body centered on the ladder. Use your belt buckle as a gauge. If the belt buckle passes beyond the ladder rail, you are more likely to fall.

• Never use the ladder’s top rung as a step.

The U.S. Fire Administration offers these fire-prevention tips.

If you have a natural Christmas tree, do not place it near a heat source, do not put it up too early or take it down too late, and make sure it is watered daily.

• Use a flame retardant metallic or artificial tree.

• Inspect holiday lights for frayed wires, bare spots and broken or cracked sockets.

• Do not overload electrical outlets and periodically check wires to make sure they are not warm to the touch.

• Avoid using lighted candles and never put them on a tree.

• Test smoke detectors regularly.


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