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    February 2019

    Holiday Decorations and Fire Safety

    string of christmas lights

    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 can pose fire risks. United Educators (UE) recommends developing and enforcing safeguards.

    Establish and Promote a Policy

    • Students, faculty, and staff should receive a list of rules and regulations related to holiday decorations. While many of these rules apply throughout the year, 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 holiday decorations policy.
    • Ensure that holiday decorations policies are applied consistently throughout the campus. Train resident assistants or supervisors in student housing to inspect holiday decorations, enforce policies, and resolve violations.

    Elements of a Good Policy

    Policies should address these guidelines to ensure the safe use of holiday decorations:

    • Cut greenery. The use of live/cut trees, wreaths, and garlands—which are highly flammable—poses a high risk of fire. Artificial trees are safer, if labeled flame-resistant or flame-retardant, but they should not be placed near heat sources. Never allow a tree to block a doorway or emergency exit.
    • Holiday lights. Some institutions prohibit the use of holiday lights. When allowed, they should be limited 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 sleeping.
    • Extension cords. Many institutions limit the use of extension cords in campus buildings and living quarters. If holiday lights are allowed, limit the number of light strands per extension cord and per room. Do not place cords under carpet, rugs, or doorways.
    • Open flames. Candles, lamps, incense, and any object with an open flame should never be allowed on campus. List specific exceptions, such as science classrooms or fireplaces, in your policy.
    • Fire equipment. Do not 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.
    • Removal. Holiday decorations should be removed no later than the closing of the residence halls at the end of the semester.


    The University of Arizona Risk Management & Safety: Holiday Decoration Guidelines
    University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee University Safety and Assurances: Holiday Decoration Guidelines
    University of California - Irvine Worklife and Wellness: Holiday Decoration Safety Tips
    Loyola University Maryland: Holiday Decorating Guidelines


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