Fire dept. offers winter safety tips

CHICAGO This season is a prime time for fires.

Sure they are timeless reminders, but they bear repeating. Exercise extreme caution this holiday season when it comes to decorating your home, having people over and don't make the mistakes that have led to tragedy year in and year out.

From the newest recruits to the new chief, it's time to offer a city wise words.

"As we celebrate the holidays, it is important to keep in mind the potential fire dangers that exist in your homes," said Chief John Brooks, Chicago Fire Department.

Twenty-nine-year veteran Brooks outlined the holiday hazards that have claimed lives in the past -- dry trees; overloaded and overheated electrical outlets; appliances, such as space heaters; and frayed extension cords.

Now, we will demonstrate how quickly a Christmas tree can ignite when the proper safety precautions are not used," said Brooks.

And then, a 6x8 room with a typical tree and furniture lit up.

Brooks said the room was engulfed after two minutes and 11 seconds - windows melt as the flash over is reached, the point where everything is on fire - while the fire department's average response time is three to four minutes.

There is total smoke, and the spread of the flames is astonishing. The heat is close to unbearable from 20 feet away.

In 2007, there were 32 fire-related deaths in Chicago, with seven taking place in December, the most in one month. This year, there have been only 14 fire-related deaths, with three taking place in January, the most in one month. But December has just begun, and the chief said he approaches his first holiday season as the head of the CFD with resignation.

"It's colder, holiday season, kids are off school, they are using more products inside, electrical stuff, candles, things like that, so we don't want this to happen, but we are ready for it," Brooks said.

When the chief started three decades ago, Chicago averaged 200 fire deaths a year. Now, it is less than 10 percent of that.

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