‘Dancing’ Star Brings Attention to Fire Safety

Posted on 12/12/2011

By JULIE CURTIS

Documentary filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris will celebrate the holiday season more carefully this year now that she’s been exposed to statistics about fire safety. Her new film, “Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged,” focuses on burn survivors, including “Dancing With the Stars” champion J.R. Martinez, before and after the accidents that changed their lives.

“The holiday season should be festive and happy, but for many people it takes a fiery and tragic turn,” says Smith-Harris, who lives and works in Fairfield County, Conn. In the U.S., fires during the holidays claim the lives of more than 400 people. They injure 1,650 more and cause more than $990 million in damage, says the United States Fire Administration (USFA).

“Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged” gives insight into the circumstances of more than a million Americans who are injured by fire every year in their homes, schools and workplaces. Half require emergency medical attention, and more than 40,000 suffer injuries significant enough to require years of treatment.

The film also reveals emotional barriers burn survivors face, along with the social issues they deal with as they recover and re-enter society. “All burn survivors are left with the daunting task of coming face-to-face with a culture that places a premium on physical beauty over strength of character,” says Smith-Harris.

Smith-Harris’ company, Pyewackitt Productions, has teamed up with smoke detector manufacturer First Alert, which is helping to sponsor the film. As part of First Alert’s support, it is offering a 20 percent holiday discount on all products at its online store until Dec. 30. Go to http://www.firstalertstore.com/ and enter the code “TrialByFire” at checkout.

By following precautionary advice, says Smith-Harris, people can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty. On its website, “Trial By Fire” offers the following tips for holiday fire safety:

  • Needles on fresh holiday trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches. Needles should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. You can identify an old tree by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree was cut too long ago, has likely dried out and is a fire hazard.
  • Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree and cause it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
  • Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of a tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.
  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
  • Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.
  • Smoke detectors save lives – everyday. Have at least one on every level of your home and in every bedroom. Change the batteries at least once a year – daylight savings or spring-cleaning works for some, birthdays, holidays or New Year’s for others.
  • It is always a good idea to have at least a few fire extinguishers, in the kitchen, garage or near a fireplace. Read the instructions so you know how to use it. A small flame can easily be contained with an extinguisher, but don’t be a hero and try to battle a big blaze. Leave that to fire professionals – always call 911.

Click here for more information on holiday fire prevention.