Twenty years ago, Nassau County Firefighters Museum & Education Center chief instructor John Murray rushed to a family’s aid after responding to a tree fire in his hometown of Rockville Centre.
“The look on the children’s faces after we rummaged through burnt presents was devastating. I could never forget it,” he remembers.
Thankfully everyone made it out safely, but Murray recalls that the fire could have very well been prevented. To avoid cases like this from becoming common, Murray, along with the Firefighters Museum, staged a live residential fire demonstration on Dec. 3 to remind Long Islanders of a few precautions residents can take to maintain the spirit of the season.
The demonstration, held at the Nassau County V.E.E.B. Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage, used two outdoor private dwelling structures designated for the purpose of training firefighters for residential fires, the most common type on Long Island.
The Firefighters Museum urges consumers to follow a few safety measures when purchasing and maintaining a tree for their home during the holidays. The first tip: Buyers should always shake the trunk of a tree before purchasing and look for falling needles that might reflect its dryness.
Once a live tree has been hoisted and decorated, regularly water it to prevent dryness, and dispose of it 10 to 14 days after it has been displayed in the home.
To show what can happen when precautions are not taken, firefighters set up a short circuit for a decorated Christmas tree that had dried for a few weeks. The flames forced one member of the audience to step backward into the parking lot across from the burn buildings to avoid the smoke.
“Ninety seconds is all it takes. Rarely anyone survives that,” Murray said.
Christmas decorations like lights and candles also pose a potential threat. The Firefighters Museum recommends choosing flame-resistant, flame-retardant decorations. Homeowners should also make it a habit to turn decorative lights off overnight before going to sleep.
“Lights should be UL approved,” said John Brown, chief instructor of the Nassau County Fire Service Academy. “Fires often happen when people are asleep, so having functional smoke alarms in every bedroom is a critical part of home fire safety. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve arrived at a fire in the middle of the night to discover there’s no smoke detector in the house.”