The wreath with red lights hung above the firetruck bay doors at the Rutland City Firehouse may look decorative, and will continue to unless the little red bulbs start being replaced by white ones.
Red bulbs mean a peaceful holiday season for families and emergency responders. However, one of the flashing red bulbs will be replaced with a white bulb any time a local fire has been investigated and determined to have been caused by holiday lights.
Rutland City Fire Chief James Larsen explained Friday the goal of the “Keep the Wreath Red” campaign.
“We would enjoy being able to look back around Jan. 1 and see that no fires in the city of Rutland were caused by holiday decorations,” he said.
The wreath campaign was started by the Illinois Fire Chief Association in 1980 as a way to highlight the need to be sure holiday lights are being used safely.
“The project is very simple. Departments are asked to hang in a place that’s easily seen by the public a wreath containing red Christmas bulbs, and to educate the public on some of the ways in which fires can be caused by holiday decorations. When a fire that has been ruled (as) caused by holiday decorations is determined, then the department will take a red light out and replace it with a white bulb to make sure that people realize that we’ve had a holiday-decoration fire. So the premise is very simple, but the message is very important,” he said.
While Larsen said he understood that people do not mean to take a risk while decorating for the holidays, he pointed out there are a number of traditional items that could present a danger.
“Anything from a natural Christmas tree that isn’t properly watered to overloaded electrical outlets or too many extension cords running around the house, all of these are causes of house fires during the holidays,” he said.
Other seasonal celebrations like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah use candles as part of the tradition.
Larsen said “Keep the Wreath Red” has been very successful in Illinois and other states that have tried it. The program is being tried for the first time this year in Rutland. Larsen came to Vermont last year from Illinois.
Larsen said the program is a way of being proactive.
“We would rather be educating the public and be preventing a fire rather than be reactive after a fire,” he said.
The department will post holiday safety tips to Facebook.
Larsen provided a list of tips from the National Fire Protection Agency including keeping lighted candles away from decorations, keeping children and pets away from candles and providing large and safe ashtrays when there are smoking guests in the house.
Tree-specific tips include making sure the tree isn’t blocking an exit, adding water to the tree stand daily, and turning off the tree lights before residents of a home go to bed for the night.
Bill Lovett, shift commander for the fire department, said he didn’t believe the RCFD had hosted such a targeted campaign about holiday light safety in about 15 years or so. However, he said fires caused by holiday decorations were not uncommon in the Rutland area.
Larsen offered a strong reminder of the weight of the wreath program.
“A home fire is devastating any time of year. It takes on extra significance at holiday time when people are injured, killed and have their property damaged or destroyed,” he said.
The wreath at the Center Street firehouse will come down Jan. 1.