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Staying safe during the holidays never gets old

We have written about holiday safety every year for more than two decades. When you do something that often, year in, year out, you start to question its importance.

Then we asked ourselves, "How many times have the Rolling Stones sung 'Start Me Up'?" And, "How many times did Frank Sinatra sing 'My Way?'"

So let us "start you up" for the holidays, with a little help from the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors and the National Fire Protection Agency.

Decorating

' New inexpensive remote controls can be used to safely turn off exterior decorations during a rain or snowstorm.

' Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.

' Use heavy-gauge extension cords (the lower the gauge-number the better the extension cord). For example: 12 gauge is better than 14 gauge is better than 16 gauge.

Entertaining

' Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States. When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on the range.

' When cooking, make sure you wear clothes that fit tightly at the wrists or roll up sleeves. Tuck in ties, bows, or other pieces of clothing that could come in contact with a hot stove. Wearing a bib-type apron will also help.

' Turn pot handle in when cooking on the stove and be sure to set timers when you must leave the kitchen.

' When finished with electric heating appliances, unplug them from the outlet. Keep dangling cords to the back of countertops so young children cannot reach up and pull on them.

' When kids are in the kitchen, provide them with something to do away from cooking areas.

' Test all food prepared in a Microwave oven before serving to ensure it's not too hot.

' When cooking on the stovetop always have a lid that will fit the pan handy. If the food or grease catches fire, simply slide the lid over the pan and turn off the heat.

' Test your smoke alarms, and let guests know what your fire escape plan is.

Fireplaces and wood stoves

' Plan ahead and have your chimney, flues or stove cleaned by a professional.

' Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers and other decorations from the firebox area. Do not burn wrapping papers. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

' Use care with 'fire salts,' which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.

' Make sure you burn only clean, dry firewood.

' Check the damper to ensure it is open before lighting the fire and keep all combustibles at least 36' inches away from fireplaces and wood stoves.

Children and pets

' Poinsettias are known to be poisonous to humans and animals, so keep them well out of reach, or avoid them.

' Keep decorations at least 6 inches above a child's reach.

' Avoid using tinsel. It can fall on the floor and a curious child or pet may eat it. This can cause anything from mild distress to death.

' Ensure that ribbons on gifts and tree ornaments are shorter than 7 inches. A child could wrap a longer strand of ribbon around his neck and choke.

' Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Do not leave a child or pet unattended.

' Store scissors and any sharp objects that you use to wrap presents out of your child's reach.

' Inspect wrapped gifts that you receive for small decorations, such as candy canes, gingerbread men, or mistletoe berries, all of which are choking hazards to children and pets.

Security

' If you plan to travel for the holidays don't discuss your plans with strangers. Ask a trusted friend or family member to keep an eye on your home and pick up your newspapers and mail.

' Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave the house, even for a few minutes.

' Indoor and outdoor lights should be on an automatic timer.

' Leave a radio or television on timers so that the house looks and sounds occupied.