April 23, 2020| Lester Yat
During the winter holiday season, newspapers are filled with stories about happy families, generosity and communities coming together. Unfortunately, they are also punctuated with stories about tragedies, including devastating fires.
Residential communities, with people living in close proximity, can be particularly vulnerable at this time of year — since safety requires the cooperation of many individuals. While a fire might be contained to a single condo unit or apartment, it also has the potential to spread through an entire building, devastating dozens, or hundreds, of families.
While some causes of household fires are recorded throughout the year — like unattended candles, or smoking or cooking accidents — winter fires often have their roots in electrical or heating issues. An unsafe tangle of extension cords, especially around Christmas trees, the use of illegal kerosene heaters, and carelessness in the placement of electric heaters tend to top the list of fire causes.
And as temperatures plummet, managers should remember that improper or insufficient attic insulation can lead to ice damming, and potentially dangerous icicle formation.
It’s also a good time for managers to check that furnaces, fire alarms, sprinklers and smoke detectors are in perfect shape. While residents rarely even think about such things, managers know that fire codes have grown stricter — creating safer environments — over the years.
Communities should regularly update their emergency plan, too, so that residents know how to safely evacuate a building, and where to gather in the case of a disaster.
Of course, there’s more to winter and holiday safety than concern about fires — and even small things can become major hazards at this time of year.
Holiday decorations themselves can cause safety issues. A wreath attached to a door or a deck railing can become airborne on a gusty, stormy day or night, and a danger to anyone passing by.
The sled that was such a hit when unwrapped under the Christmas tree can become a nuisance when left in the hallway to dry off after an afternoon of sliding.
A gaggle of snowy boots left outside an apartment door can create a tripping hazard for unwary residents trying to navigate a narrow hallway.
And youngsters enjoying a boisterous snowball fight on the lawn — or in the parking lot — can become a danger to other residents, especially the elderly.
Managers need to be alert, too, for winter-related dangers like icy spots on sidewalks, which can lead to “slip and fall” lawsuits, not to mention medical disasters for residents and visitors.
Maintaining safety at a residential community is a challenge at any time of the year — but winter, and especially the holiday season, with increased visitor traffic and school vacations — requires extra vigilance by the entire community. For managers and residents alike, a safe winter season can be the best gift of all.
We hope you all have a happy, healthy — and safe — holiday season!