It’s that time of the year that people enjoy purchasing presents for loved ones, and gathering with family and friends — but, it’s also a time when crime and accidents can ruin happy holiday plans.
So, here are some suggestions from Shawn Whited, division chief for Pasco Fire Rescue and Deputy Ron Buzzetto, of Pasco County Sheriff’s Office crime prevention division, which seek to help you have a safe and merry season.
Staying safe at home
Division Chief Whited offers these pointers for staying safe at home:
- Inspect your electrical cords. Make sure they’re not frayed.
- Do not overload outlets with too many electrical cords.
- If using a living tree, be sure to keep it watered to prevent it from becoming a fire hazard.
- When baking, be sure to pay attention, and don’t lose track of time. “You’d be surprised at how many house fires we go to that started with something in the oven that somebody forgot,” Whited said.
- If using a turkey fryer, be sure to measure the oil correctly and use the proper temperature. Also, be sure the turkey has been thawed before cooking.
- When using the fireplace, do not over pack it with materials, and make sure those materials fit in the fireplace. Do not burn wrapping papers, the embers can fly and can cause a fire. Also, the intensity of the heat from the wrapping paper could cause a chimney fire.
- Be sure to extinguish candles, to avoid a potential fire.
- If you like to place wrapped presents under the tree, be sure not to wrap any items that are harmful to your pets. For instance, chocolate is bad for dogs, but chances are your dog will sniff it out and get into it, if you wrap some and leave it under the tree.
Deputy Buzzetto adds these tips for staying safe on the home front:
- Protect package deliveries. “This is a prime time of year for porch piracy,” Buzzetto said. Protect yourself by having those packages rerouted to your office, your neighbor or a family member if you won’t be at home to receive it. Otherwise, get a post office box.
- Reduce home burglaries. “Most break-ins typically happen during the day, when folks are at work,” Buzzetto said. Some ways to reduce risks include using a home alarm system; keeping curtains and blinds drawn, to prevent would-be burglars from seeing your valuables; being sure your windows and doors are locked; making sure your vehicle’s doors are locked; joining a Neighborhood Watch, to help each other keep an eye out for suspicious characters.
- Don’t open the door to strangers. Ask who it is through the door before deciding whether you want to answer it, Buzzetto said.
Staying safe while shopping
Deputy Buzzetto offers these reminders:
- Be mindful of your surroundings, day or night.
- Park in well-lit areas. Do not get out of your car if you feel unsafe.
- Be sure your car is locked.
- Carry only what you need. If you’re carrying a purse, you run the risk of having your purse snatched.
- Do not place your purse in the trunk, while you are in plain view of others.
- Do not carry a multitude of credit cards. If one credit card is enough, just take that.
- Keep valuables in your car out of plain sight of potential criminals.
- If you feel uncomfortable walking back to your car, go back to the store and ask for an escort.
- Shop in pairs, if possible. You are less vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime.
- When returning to your car, have your key fob ready. It can activate your car horn, which can deter criminals. Also, a small horn or whistle are other ways to make noise and deter criminals.
Gas stations are a prominent place for card skimmers, so the best approach is to pay by credit inside the gas station, Buzzetto said.
Staying safe on the road
Both Whited and Buzzetto remind motorists to play it safe through defensive driving.
- If someone starts following, Buzzetto said, call 9-1-1 and drive to an area where there are lots of people. Criminals are less likely to engage when there are witnesses.
- If you have car trouble, try to get to a safe place off the road, Whited said. If it’s not possible to move your car to a safer location, get out of the car and move yourself to a safer location, Whited said.
- Do not text or use your phone while driving, Buzzetto said. “Find a safe place. Pull over,” he said.
- Be extra cautious on the road because there are more people out during the holidays, and this is the time of year when there are visitors in the area that are unfamiliar with area roads, Whited said. There are also returning snowbirds, and because of new construction, things don’t look the same as they did when they left, Whited said.
The bottom line, Buzzetto said, is to be sure to pay attention.
“This is ‘crime of opportunity’ season here, with the holidays,” he said.
“People are so consumed with their phone that they miss looking up, and looking around,” Buzzetto said. “Your personal safety is first and foremost. Property can be replaced. Purses can be replaced. Your personal safety has to be the priority.”
These are 10 tips to avoid fire dangers during the holidays
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and the National Fire Protection Association offers these tips to help ensure your holiday plans don’t go up in smoke:
- Have a fireplace chimney cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
- Make sure a fireplace flue or damper is open before starting a fire. The opening draws smoke up the chimney and out of a building.
- A fireplace must have a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container, which then is placed a safe distance from any residence.
- Inside the home, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom, and in hallways leading to bedrooms.
- Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from a fireplace or other indoor heating equipment such as a furnace, wood stove or portable space heater.
- Have a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around fireplaces and fire pits.
- Position a fire pit at least 10 feet away from any structure, combustible material, or neighboring yard.
- Do not put a fire pit directly on a wooden deck or grass, or beneath eaves or low-hanging tree branches. Place the fire pit on a nonflammable surface, such as concrete or patio blocks.
- Burn only dry and aged wood. Generally, hardwoods such as oak and maple are preferred. Properly cured, they release more heat and burn cleanly.
- Never leave an active fireplace or fire pit unattended.
Published December 13, 2017