Fire-safety codes apply to holiday treesA graphic video shows how fast a holiday tree goes up in flames — about three seconds — and how quickly those flames can engulf an entire room — about 10 seconds.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
A graphic video shows how fast a holiday tree goes up in flames — about three seconds — and how quickly those flames can engulf an entire room — about 10 seconds.
See it at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (fire division) Web site: http://fire.nist.gov/tree_fire.htm.
River Falls Assistant Fire Chief Mike Moody says those images illustrate why tree safety at the holidays is so important and he’s spreading the word about what the fire code does and does not allow.
“Remember when you watch that video that it isn’t the fire that kills most people. It’s the smoke,” Moody says about the dramatic footage captured from a floor level camera.
Wisconsin adopted in spring this year the National Fire Protection Association’s fire code of 2006. Officials made slight changes to the code this year, prompting the local fire department to publicize how section 10.14 of NFPA’s code restricts the display of live trees.
The code on “combustible vegetation” prohibits displaying a live tree in nearly all places where the public assembles except federal buildings and single-family homes and duplexes. Hotels, businesses, dormitories, apartment buildings and added this year, churches, cannot have them without special clearance from the fire department.
“We have inspection and enforcement authority basically anywhere but single-family homes,” said Moody and continuing about churches, “They used to be exempt.”
The fire department sent letters to area churches explaining the code changes. Moody explains that any place can seek an exemption.
They can call the fire department, which sends an official to come and check to be the tree won’t block any entrances, exits, common hallways or other point of access. They look at what the tree would hit should it fall over.
“Any of these places are allowed to call us,” he said about exemptions.
Moody said they look to make sure the tree isn’t near a heating vent, space heater or other source of air or heat that would cause dryness. Guidelines say it’s very important to keep the tree properly watered. They drink up to a gallon of water daily, especially right after cutting.
“They should be checked daily,” says Moody about the water level.
The code advises cutting off 1/2 inch from the tree’s stump after purchase so it can absorb water. Sap hardens on the stump, making the tree unable to drink.
The assistant chief said there’s no way to tell how long cut trees have been sitting on a lot and advises a quick freshness test: Pull a branch through the fingers to see if any needles fall off. If they do, find a fresher tree.
The NFPA code advises that Noble fir trees hold their moisture longest. It also says throw out any tree that shows signs of drying.
“The fresher a tree is cut before you buy it, the better it will be,” Moody said.
He advises using only LED lights approved by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). That type stays cool unlike old bulbs that get hot. The code says don’t use electric lights on an artificial tree since even a bit of exposed wire can electrically charge the whole tree.
Moody says, “If a building is sprinkled, it’s treated differently than if it’s not.”
Ones with a sprinkler system can usually get approval to have a live tree. Otherwise, it depends on the individual situation. The assistant chief gives some local examples:
UW-River Falls’ new University Center has a sprinkler system, the latest in fire prevention and protection technology plus good ingress and egress. Moody thinks the UC would get approved.
North Hall and South Hall probably would not because they’re old, historic buildings with no sprinkler system and limited access. He said many downtown businesses shouldn’t have a live tree, either, because most buildings are old, contain lots of wood and have no fire separation.
He says even one fire at Christmas time is too many. He remembers a big one on Bartosh Lane years ago that happened a few days before Christmas.
The family’s home burned down, displacing them and ruining all their holiday goods.
Moody said the purpose behind the code and fire departments’ enforcement of it really boils down to safety. The code’s basic purpose: “To ensure safety and welfare…to identify and eliminate conditions hazardous to life and property…”
Adding that Christmas is the worst time for one to happen, Moody said, “A fire anytime is devastating.”