By Amanda Burdette
Deck the halls with boughs of holly — but don’t hang the them by the fireplace or where children might confuse the poison red berries with candy.
The weather outside may be frightful and the fire delightful — as long as the burning wood is seasoned, like oak, and never pine, which can combust.
Oh, Christmas tree! Oh, Christmas tree! How lovely are your branches –just as long as dry needles don’t catch fire.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and festivity, but they harbor danger. Experts from the University of Maryland and the Maryland State Fire Marshal offer suggestions for keeping the season safe.
Watch where you put the punch, warns Bruce Anderson, director of the Poison Center at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
At a party, if alcoholic punch is left sitting around in a cup, children can easily ingest it. In a youngster’s system, Anderson says, alcohol “can cause a pretty dramatic drop in blood pressure.” Keep an eye on both your kids and your guests, and if there is a mishap, get the child to a hospital, he suggests.
Other poison dangers, he says, are small batteries that may fall out of a camera or calculator, tree preservatives and — when to grandmother’s house we go — cold medicines not in a child-safe bottle.
Anderson also cautions against a cold-weather hazard that doesn’t respect Christmas: carbon monoxide. The odorless, colorless gas can poison when an obstruction such as a squirrel’s nest blocks an exhaust vent. The symptoms are flu-like: dizziness and stomach aches.
Food poisoning is also a major concern during the holidays. Pam Curaton, research dietician for the University of Maryland School of Medicine, warns about eating products that contain raw eggs — eggnog, homemade ice cream or cookie dough. These, as well as raw chicken, may carry salmonella bacteria, which can cause severe stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea within two to 72 hours of consumption.
Curaton’s advice? Don’t use “a knife to cut chicken and then cut raw vegetables.”
The kitchen is also a source of fire hazards, warns W. Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal. Keep pan handles turned towards the back of the stove so little hands can’t grab them, he says.
In the living room or den, Taylor says, tend that Christmas tree. Watering the tree keeps it moist. Dry needles will snap when bent, he says. If this happens, “You should take it down.”
Check lights to ensure that they are in good condition and for the UL symbol — for Underwriters Laboratory — signifying they were tested for safety. Taylor points out that Maryland law requires that lights be tested, but adds that it is always good to check.
Remember to keep all greenery — not just the tree — away from heat sources. Don’t hang garland along the fireplace. And if a fire occurs, absolutely don’t attempt to put it out yourself. Taylor warns: “The odds are against you.”
Taylor recommends giving smoke detectors as gifts. “It is the cheapest insurance you can give,” he says. -30-