Averting Christmas tragedies
Christmas Eve is two days away, and for many it will once again be the last day of final preparations and planning for family visits, Midnight Mass and family luncheons. And, unfortunately, there will be the traffic rush and indiscriminate drivers who continue to plague the roads.
Heavy traffic, impatience, anxiety about bills, house guests, and short-tempered irritable people behind the wheel of a vehicle are the perfect recipe for a disaster and a Christmas filled with sadness and funerals.
Rushing to get to the next store before going to the airport for family, while collecting the children on the way to the same airport for a plane that arrived 30 minutes ago, are all of the ingredients for a major traffic accident with injuries.
Christmas –– its true meaning blurred by blaring media commercials, print ads and department store sales promoting their bargains and gift ideas for the family. Christmas –– a time of rushing around looking for things which could have been found months ago; a time when patience is short, tempers are even shorter, fender benders occur every five minutes, every road becomes a Formula One racecourse, and complaints about money top every conversation.
Christmas –– exotic lights adorning trees and the outside of homes, Bridgetown glowing with translucent colours across the cityscape, shoppers blocking doorways, and vendors plying their wares on the sidewalks and antagonizing pedestrians and bargaining with the police for just a “little more time to make a sale”.
Christmas –– preparing the turkey and ham late into the night for the Christmas lunch with family and friends, leaving the oven on “low” while dressing for Midnight Mass and worrying about the stuffing in the chicken and if there will be enough great cake for everyone.
Christmas –– sirens wailing late into the night, as another oven overheats and brings the harsh reality of being homeless to the front pages of the media.
This year, as in previous years, families and business alike will share one of many common practices that can impact safety in the home, as well as in the business. Administrative and structural shortcuts will be taken to maximize sales; safety will take second place to displaying the most elaborately decorated tree and house possible, regardless of the cost and the risks associated with overloaded electrical circuits precipitating another disaster.
Historically, house fires, deaths and injuries have been reported to occur more frequently in the months of December and January than any other time of the year, except maybe the annual “dry season”. This is attributed to the fact that many of these fires start because of holiday decorations and unattended kitchens.
There are fundamental guidelines for personal fire safety which all householders should consider. Smoke alarms are a must; naked flames should not be left unattended; and escape routes must be planned and known by all family members, considering that most Barbadian homes have metal burglar bars to keep out “the uninvited Christmas guest”.
When I first started writing for Barbados TODAY, I said I firmly believed that if one were to give “hazards” and their resulting “offspring” “disasters” a personality, one would say that they had an annoying habit of “acting up” at the most inopportune of times. I also believed that reckless driving did have its own personality . . . .
In both instances, one could also say that these distinct different personalities would wait until we were the least prepared to cause the greatest amount of anxiety in a person’s life –– that is, if they had personalities; but they don’t.
A significant contributing factor to Christmas disasters is the often overlooked habit, which in fact is a learned behaviour, of going to sleep with an active working oven, often said to be set at “low heat”. But there is no such thing as a “low heat”.
While the mechanical controls of the ovens will assist in regulating the intensity of the flame inside the oven, the temperature will not remain at what most householders term as “low heat”.
As long as a there is a fuel source, then the temperature inside the oven will continue to slowly increase. Don’t you often wonder why some of your items are sometimes described as “too dry”, “cooked to much” or “burnt to a crisp”, even though the oven was on “low”?
Leaving working ovens and pressure cookers unattended is a continuous dangerous practice which the Barbados Fire Service says is all too often the primary reason why homes are lost to fire.
We all love to see the beautiful Christmas light displays during the Yuletide season, and the smell of the oven with its anticipated gastronomical delights, but there are some things which should be done before setting up Christmas light displays and preparing Christmas lunch that will help avoid problems, or even dangerous conditions.
Before starting, it is a good idea to do some planning, determine how you want the display to look, and how you are going to fasten things in a secure manner.
Asking safety questions about installing Christmas lights may actually save your home. Every year, a fire is attributed to faulty Christmas tree lights or improper installation. In other cases, the cause is attributed to an unattended oven in a kitchen.
How long do you leave your Christmas lights switched on? If the answer is all the time, or all night long, I would suggest you reconsider. Leaving them on all night while you are sleeping is never a good idea.
It’s also a not a good idea to leave decorative lights on if you are going to be away from home for a long period of time; and leaving them on during daylight hours is just a waste of power and money. A simple safety habit is to turn them on at dusk and turn them off when you go to sleep. Adding a timer, or having a switch that controls a dedicated outlet for the lights will offer further safety for the home.
There are no suggestions 2016 will present us with an “end of the world prediction”, as had been the case for 2012. However, I would suggest we do nothing that might speed up this prediction, either globally or in your neighbourhood.
Many dramatic and tragic moments have occurred across the world stage, all of which culminated with the explosion of violent extremism in Paris and California, which once again reinforced the fragility of human life.
To all my readers, please accept my best wishes for this Christmas season. As you share in this worldwide moment of worship and merriment, I ask that you do so in moderation. Remembering and celebrating the true meaning of Christmas and all it holds does not mean that it has to be done with tears and emotional pain.
Eat in moderation; drink, if you must, responsibly, practising safety as we celebrate Christmas and welcome the New Year. This will go a long way to enjoying the season with smiles and not tears.
I hope all of your dreams and wishes come true, and that you will meet the New Year without tragedy, and that you will always be aware of your safety and that of others.