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Holiday Decorations and Fire Safety

Alyssa Keehan, Esq., CPCU, ARM
October 2020
Guidelines for developing an effective holiday decoration policy

As winter approaches, holiday decorations will appear in campus buildings and residence halls. Decking the halls is an excellent community-building activity, but holiday decorations at your K-12 school, college, or university can pose fire risks. Develop and enforce safeguards.

Establish and Promote a Policy

  • Provide students, faculty, and staff with a list of rules and regulations related to holiday decorations. While many of these rules apply year-round, remind your campus community about general fire precautions and specific rules for holiday decorations.
  • Use your campus or local fire department as a resource when creating your policy.
  • Apply the policy consistently throughout your campus. Train resident assistants or supervisors in student housing to inspect holiday decorations, enforce policies, and resolve violations.

Include These Elements in Your Policy

Policies should address these guidelines:

  • Cut greenery. The use of live/cut trees, wreaths, and garlands — which are highly flammable — poses a high risk of fire. Artificial trees, if labeled flame-resistant or flame-retardant, are safer. But they should not be placed near heat sources. Never allow a tree to block a doorway or emergency exit.
  • Holiday lights. Some schools prohibit the use of holiday lights. If you allow them, limit them to indoor lights that contain the Underwriters Laboratory seal, as the use of outdoor grade lights indoors poses a fire hazard. The manufacturer’s safety instructions must be followed, especially with respect to number of strings attached to each other. Never use holiday lights on a metallic, artificial tree. Lights and extension cords used for decorations should be unplugged (not just turned off) whenever unattended and while people sleep.
  • Extension cords. Many institutions limit the use of extension cords in campus buildings and living quarters. If you allow holiday lights, limit the number of light strands per extension cord and per room. Don’t place cords under carpets, rugs, or doorways.
  • Open flames. Never allow candles, lamps, incense, and any object with an open flame. Policies should list specific exceptions, such as science classrooms or fireplaces.
  • Fire equipment. Don’t attach decorations to (or block from view) fire sprinklers, smoke alarms, exit signs, emergency lights, and fire equipment such as hoses or extinguishers. Prohibit use of artificial snow spray, which easily activates fire alarms and is a common lung irritant.
  • Decoration removal. Holiday decorations should be removed no later than the closing of the residence halls at the end of the semester.
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