"2F" 101: The key to holiday happiness

  • Published
  • By Maj. Joshua Fulcher
  • 154th Training Squadron, FSO
Well, it's that time of year again--can you believe it's already here??--and the holidays are upon us. We are all making plans for the host of activities and travel that comes along with the season. But along with those plans, travel, and fun comes some dangers that we should all take a moment to consider.

From the Thanksgiving holiday through the middle of January, the two words that best describe the vast majority of the injuries (and deaths) that occur are the "2 F's": "Falls" and "Fire."

Falls. There is an old saying among rock climbers, "the law of gravity is strictly enforced." Knowing that o-so-simple law, climbers go at their hobby well prepared. Ropes, harnesses, safety observers, etc..., are employed liberally during any climbing evolution. But, how many home handy men think past the joyous pride they'll feel as envious passers by gawk at the Edison inspired holiday light show they have attached to their once humble abode? (I'll pick on men in this due to the fact that statistically, we men are VASTLY more likely to fall from a ladder or roof during holiday decorating). We will often find ourselves hanging in a precarious position, some 20 or 30 feet above terra firma (and I do mean FIRM!), working with Clark Griswald-esk diligence to make our homes visible from over the horizon. But do we stop and take a moment to plan what we're placing our ladder on, what's below and above it (deaths from ladders coming into contact with power lines occur every year around the holiday season), or how well our ladder is stabilized? Statistics tell us a resounding "NO!" On average, about 5,800 people - two to three every hour - (Source: CDC Fall-Related Injuries During the Holiday Season (2004) - make the ride of shame to the emergency room each year to have arms, legs, or noggins splinted or surgically repaired due to not thinking through the strategic placement of a ladder while hanging holiday decorations.

Prevention and safety when working on a ladder is very simple. The most effective prevention: have a buddy help you out. (Well, the ultimate prevention is abstinence from hanging holiday flare more than 3 ft above the ground, but we all know that's NOT going to happen!) So, grab your buddy, brother-in-law, neighbor, spouse, offspring, or whoever, and have them hold your ladder and help you maneuver through your decoration evolution. Be like a good rock climber and don't thumb your nose at the law of gravity..., it is strictly enforced and there is harsh punishment for disobedience.

Next we visit fire. Fire is your friend..., until it gets away from you. A huge number of house fires occur every year around the holidays. But before we delve into the reasons for these fires, let us have a quick scientific review:

· The boiling point of water is 212 deg F.
· The freezing point of water is 32 deg F.
· Air contracts when cold, expands when hot.
· Water, in the form of steam, expands to more than 1700 times its original volume when brought above its boiling point.
· Steam formed in a confined space builds in pressure until it escapes the space.
· Liquids are not compressible.
· Oil, especially in a vaporized state, is flammable.
· Fire is hot.
· Oil and water do not mix.

So..., why the junior high school science class review? All the factors above contribute to over 250 house fires a year. If one takes a frozen object that is made mostly of water..., say, a Butterball Turkey. And puts said frozen object in very hot environment..., say, a stainless steel pot full of 450 peanut oil. The frozen water that comprises the majority of said turkey rapidly expands as its temperature rapidly exceeds the boiling point. Since the stainless steel container is fixed in its size and very strong, the rapidly expanding water, and oil that does not mix with it, must go somewhere. The water vaporizes almost instantaneously, displaces the oil so rapidly that it too partially vaporizes. This flammable, vaporized mess spills over the top and onto the side of the container, straight to the open flame below. Be unfortunate enough to have said situation occur inside, or next to your humble abode? Well, there is one, very appropriate word to describe what happens next: INFERNO. (If you'd like to witness a fine example of this scientific principle, fire up Youtube (pun intended) and search for: "Why you should NEVER fry a frozen turkey.")

All kidding aside, the above situation happens more than 250 times every year. Don't let one of the most delicious, and artery hardening, delights you could ever put in your mouth become the reason Allstate (Mayhem is freezing the turkey and boiling the oil as I type) has to write you a check to try replace what you've worked for your whole life. Thaw the turkey, keep it dry, move the pot away from the house, and keep the Halon close by. Happy Thanksgiving.

Christmas is not without its fiery dangers as well. Two that lead the way: Christmas trees and candles. A yummy smelling Yankee Candle placed too close to a dry Christmas tree will give you a far more poignant and memorable smell to remember. "Charred Drywall" and "Melted Carpet" are not high on the Yankee list of popular olfactory delights. Yet, way too many people have smelt just that due to placing a candle too close to a dried out cedar tree that is covered in wood ornaments, thin plastic tinsel strips, and rubber coated electrical cords. One would think it's painfully obvious to not mix open flame with a dry, decorated tree, yet looking at the stats below, one sees that it is all too common an occurrence.

"Deck the walls with fire and brimstone, fa la la la la, la la la la....."
The numbers are a bit sobering:

· Each year, fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of more than 400 Americans, injure 1,650 more, and cause more than $990 million in damage. (Source: USFA December and Holiday Fires, 2006)

· Candle-related fires are one of the most common holiday home hazards, averaging more than 15,000 each year, resulting in 166 deaths, nearly 13,000 injuries and $450 million in direct property damage. (Source: NFPA, June 2010)

· Christmas trees, both natural and artificial, were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 250 reported home structure fires per year during 2003-2007. These fires caused an estimated average of 14 civilian deaths, 26 civilian injuries and $13.8 million in direct property damage per year. (Source: NFPA Home Christmas Tree and Holiday Light Fires, 2009)

Other sources of ignition are common during the holidays. Overloaded electrical outlets, fireplaces, back yard bonfires, or fireworks on New Year's Eve. All, if not contained and respected, can bring one's holiday season to a sobering and tragic end. Bottom line is to be judicious with fire. Think about what is flammable, where you place ignition sources, and how you will deal with a fire if it gets out of hand.

The holidays are a fantastic time of year. Don't let carelessness lead to a disaster. Enjoy time with your family, the parties, and the festivities that make up the season. One quick reminder of the third, underlying, "F" that is, more often than not, involved in the above discussion: Fermentables. The harsh reality is alcohol contributes greatly to all the above situations and many others--like consuming fermentables before, or while, driving your Ford. Think before you drink and as the Air Force always reminds you, HAVE A PLAN!

Have a safe, happy Holiday season. Now..., Clark, Mayhem, and I are off to break out some lights, pick out a turkey, get two gallons of oil, fill the propane tank, buy some candles, chop down a tree, climb some rocks, watch some Youtube, and get ready for the season. Be safe....