Gulfport FD, Air National Guard’s live tree fire demonstration encourages fire safety during the holidays

It’s a scenario that firefighters are all too familiar with during the holiday season: homes catching fire because of holiday decorations.
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 9:09 PM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s a scenario that firefighters are all too familiar with during the holiday season: homes catching fire because of holiday decorations.

Especially if a decorated live tree is inside the home. When a live tree isn’t watered properly, it dries. If mixed with plugging in multiple faulty lights to an outlet, it turns decorations into destruction.

“Once [trees] dry out, they’re a tinder box. They can burn very quickly and easily,” said Gulfport Fire Chief Billy Kelly.

At the Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, the city’s fire department joined with Air National Guard Fire crews. Together, they designed and trained on a scenario involving a dry live tree, gift wrapped presents and a fabric couch.

“It takes less than three minutes and [the home] is gone,” said SMSgt. Demetrius Baldwin, the installation’s fire chief. “Nine times out of ten it’s gonna happen when the occupants of that residence are asleep. Those are the calls we don’t want to have to go on.”

Inside the staged living room, a firefighter lights a small flame and holds it to a single branch on the tree. The flame simulates an electrical fire sparking from too many lights plugged into the same outlet.

“A lot of people think if they have one surge protector that they can put a hundred outlets, and that’s not true. Read the manufacturers instructions and don’t overload any of your circuits,” Chief Kelly said.

“If your lighting is old, I would change it. Inspect those lights before you put it on your tree. If there’s any frayed wiring, get rid of them,” SMSgt. Baldwin said. “Those are the things that usually creates those fires because the tree is butted up against the wall where the outlet is and that’s what creates those incidents.”

Fire detectors and extinguishers are also critical in preventing and containing these infernos. Local fire departments will inspect those items for homeowners to make sure they’re working properly. After the first exercise, crews simulated breaking down a door to get inside home. Then, they begin an attack on the fire and search for anyone trapped inside. It’s vital training that gives participants experience in moments that can easily prove to be life or death.

“Anytime we can train together like this, it’s invaluable to see how each other work and be on the same page with each other, said Chief Kelly.

“We provide all kinds of training out here at CRTC fire training area,” said SMSgt. Baldwin. “We are providing some of the best training in the business.”

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