SIKESTON -- Every year it's the same message: take precautions to ensure a safe holiday season.
But it's a message worth repeating -- and one as important now as it has ever been, local fire protection officials say.
"People just don't realize, and they think: 'It's not going to happen to me,'" said New Madrid City Fire Chief Jim Harris.
Just last week a 3-year-old Morehouse boy was killed in an early morning fire at his home. Officials said there were no working smoke detectors found in the home.
Smoke detectors should be tested monthly, Harris said.
"The National Fire Protection Association and most other fire prevention groups advise when you set the clocks back in the fall, replace the batteries in your smoke alarms," Harris said.
Smoke detectors should be placed on each level of a home; one should be in each bedroom as well as outside, Harris said.
"The reason is if you've got one in the hall and the door to your bedroom is shut, you probably won't hear the alarm if it goes off," Harris said.
The National Fire Protection Association said the winter holidays are a time for celebration which also means more cooking, decorating, entertaining and an increased risk of fire due to heating equipment.
"Normally that's the case here, but the last couple years, we've been really fortunate. We didn't have as many fires," Harris said.
In addition to making sure smoke detectors are working, homeowners should have their furnaces checked and fireplaces cleaned, Harris said.
Ray Ressel, owner of Ray's in Kelso, estimated he puts up about 2,000 strands of lights when he decorates his restaurant. He decorates the inside of the restaurant and the Whiteford House, which is a building used for dining adjacent to the main restaurant. He also sets up Christmas displays on the lot used as the outdoor dining tent complex in the spring and summer.
"My dad was a big believer in decorating things up and that's why I do it. It runs in the family," Ressel said.
Something that should be avoided is overloading circuit breakers by putting too many strands of lights on one plug, Ressel said. Don't plug together more than the recommended amount on the package, he said.
"If you don't follow that direction, the wires get too hot and melt through the plastic," Ressel said.
Most of Ressel's decorations are set on timers simply because it's more convenient, he said.
Ressel also cautioned others to be careful with candles and centerpieces. "I love them, too -- the look of a nice, tapered candle coming out of a centerpiece with greenery. Those are beautiful, but I never burn those candles," Ressel said.
If Ressel does burn candles, he keeps them in globes, he said.
If possible, use a ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, Harris said. It should be plugged within three feet of a water line. It's there to protect people from electrical shock, so it is completely different from a fuse.
"A GFCI circuit would eliminate a lot of those shorts and fires and overloaded circuits," Harris said.
For those who prefer to have a real Christmas tree, Portageville Rural Fire Department Chief Bill Foster said to keep the tree watered. "A well-watered tree is a safe tree," Foster said.
Foster suggested after buying a real tree to take it home and cut two inches from the trunk's bottom. Then place it in water and water every day, he said.
The following suggestions to stay safe this holiday season were provided by the Sikeston Department of Public Safety:
-- Don't leave Christmas tree lights on while unattended.
--Avoid accidents by using wire or cord to secure a tree to the wall or ceiling. (This will prevent it from toppling over by small children or pets.)
-- Check all light sets prior to use. Don't use damaged light sets or extension cords. Use only lights approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) on a tree and no candles.
-- Promptly remove all discarded packages and wrappings from the home. -- Never burn wrappings in the fireplace or wood stove.
-- Use only non-combustible decorations.
-- If using candles, make sure they are in stable holders on a flat, stable surface and create a one-foot circle of safety surrounding them.
-- Never leave the house with candles burning.
-- Never leave children or pets unattended with a lit candle. (The candle can easily be knocked over.)
-- Never use candles near combustible materials such as curtains, drapes, bedding and cabinets.
-- Clean often neglected areas, such as storage areas in and around furnaces and water heaters.
-- Do not place empty boxes, wrapping paper and other combustibles near the furnace, water heater or space heater.
-- Don't use an extension cord with an electrical heater.
-- Make sure the car has been prepared for cold weather.
-- Review the Citizen's Handbook for Emergencies at www.sikeston.org.