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Ways to stay safe during the holidays
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The holiday season is here again, so it is time for some safety tips that can spare you and your family incidences of injuries, fires and property loss. The holidays bring a time of fun, a time of uniting with family and friends, a change in the weather, and for most people, a few extra days off work. At the same time, the shorter number of daylight hours, inclement weather, holiday blues, increased alcohol consumption, shopping-related congestion and conflicts, and visitor overload are some less-than-pleasant byproducts of the holiday season.

Two fire-related threats come into play at this time of the year. Christmas trees tend to become dry and vulnerable to fire. Christmas trees burn hot and fast, so it can easily cause an entire house to burn down. These fires are usually due to faulty tree light wires. Some people use candles on or near their trees, which is highly inadvisable. Trees should be kept away from furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters and electric heaters.

Although the use of fireplaces is restricted to certain days only (visit to check the wood-burning status), they are still, nevertheless, a winter-time favorite for many. If you are planning to use your fireplace, be sure it has been inspected prior to burning. If there is a build-up of creosote, it must be removed to ensure that a chimney fire does not occur. There may be a bird nest, leaves and other debris blocking the chimney. Be sure to open the flue before using a fireplace, as this is a common oversight.

There is also the issue of shopping environment safety. Among the many problems that arise during the holiday season are the parking lot thieves who break into parked cars to steal presents and other valuables. It is advisable to leave nothing of value in sight for thieves to steal and take an occasional drive home to off load your purchases. Be assured that if you place items in your trunk to keep them safe, someone will be watching. Placing items in the trunk is a sure sign confirming that your car has things in it worth stealing. Try to park in well-lit areas and travel in pairs.

Women (and men) who carry bags, backpacks or purses should be sure to not leave these items unattended in shopping carts. It takes but a few seconds for someone to quickly take a purse from a shopping cart, with the victim having seen nothing and no one. When I shop these days, I see a surprisingly large number of people who've have left their purse or wallet in a cart several feet away from them - it is a theft waiting to happen. And if a wallet or purse is stolen or lost, be sure to report it to store security at once, notify the police without delay and inform your banks and credit card companies. It is smart to have your account numbers and credit card company phone numbers listed in a place separate from your wallet or purse.

Driving during the winter is, without a doubt, more hazardous than other times of the year. There are fewer daylight hours and frequent occasions of inclement weather. To make matters worse, the holiday season is a time of increased social activities and partying. The number of intoxicated drivers on our roads is very high during this time, so you need to expect some dangerous motorists out there. Be sure not to be one of them - the police are alert to DUI drivers and have a zero tolerance for violators.

It is prudent to increase our awareness and precautions this time of year when we know that the holidays are accompanied by some safety challenges. I urge you to be vigilant, use common sense, look out for your neighbors, and in doing so, we can enjoy a safer community. I wish you a wonderful holiday season!