The Chief’s Corner

fire safety tips from James Levine,
Fire Chief of the Upper Saddle River Fire Department and 20 year veteran of the New Jersey fire service.
December 22, 2005

It’s that time of year when we find it festive, and for some perhaps even a religious duty, to fill our homes with the warm glow from the inspiring light of candles. Yes, they are beautiful. And some of them even smell so enchanting. But they can also be quite dangerous if we fail to take the right precautions, especially in homes with children. There are a few simple, but critical rules to follow if you want to safely use candles.

Here’s rule number 1:  Never leave a candle burning unattended!  Make sure you put them out when you go to sleep or even exit the room.  There’s no such thing as a safely burning candle in the absence of a cognizant attendant.  Don’t leave until the candle is completely extinguished- best accomplished by using a soft breath or a candle snuffer.

Many people find it attractive, even romantic, to light candles in the bedroom.  But ask any firefighter just how pretty a house fire is and, well, you get my drift!  So here’s rule number 2:  keep those candles out of the bedroom and find some other way to “light up your life.”  Almost half of all house fires started by candles begin in the bedroom!  And don’t place those pretty lit candles in the windows or near drafts.  This can bring the flames in contact with walls and woodwork. 

OK, so you’ve decided you still want candles in your home, so let’s make sure they are well supported in a base that won’t tip or be knocked over easily and is made from a non combustible material.  Place your candle holders on a stable, flat surface that is free from paper or other flammable materials.  Light them making sure to keep your hair, your face and your clothing well out of the way. And now for rule number 3:  Keep the candles well beyond the reach of any children!  Be aware that kids like to play with the melting and dripping wax.  They can easily sustain serious burns from this type of entertainment.  And don’t let any kids, even teenagers, have candles in their rooms!

Finally, let’s be safe with those matches and lighters.  Store them out of sight in a locked cabinet, where those “little fingers” won’t roam.   And in case of an emergency, have plenty of flashlights and fresh batteries available for those power outages- they’re much safer for emergency lighting than candles.

Questions?  Or thinking of becoming a volunteer firefighter?  E-mail Chief Levine at: