By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

The winter holidays are the worst time for local firefighters. The holidays can be even worse for a family who loses their home or a loved one in a fire.

During 35 years in fire prevention, Harker Heights Fire Chief Jack Collier has seen his share of fires that ruin holidays. When he worked for the Temple Fire Department, he witnessed a family that lost everything on Christmas Eve.

The family went to sleep soon after they unwrapped presents and discarded wrapping paper into their chimney. They awoke to find their home on fire, Collier said.

The paper ignited a large fire up the chimney, which spread into the attic. The family escaped unharmed, but the fire destroyed their home, Collier said.

Between candles, portable heaters, Christmas trees, light displays and fireplaces, Christmas is the busiest time for local firefighters.

So far 2009 has been slow compared to previous years, Killeen Fire Marshal James Chism said Tuesday. Chism hopes the fire safety messages of years past are getting through to people, but he acknowledges that may not be the case.

"I don't want to speak too early because this season we haven't had that much cold weather," Chism said. "It seems any time we go from hot to cold, there are usually fires."

Chism cites blankets near heaters and un-inspected heaters as just a few of the causes of cold-weather fires.

While there are a litany of tips to avoid fires, the old adage "better safe than sorry" works best.

"We've taken it for granted, but use common sense. If you have to think about if something is safe, it's probably a good indicator you shouldn't do it," Chism said.

Contact Victor O'Brien at or (254) 501-7468.

Home heating safety tips

Winter officially arrives Monday. Temple Fire & Rescue along with the Home Safety Council offer the following tips to keep your home warm and safe this winter.

Central heater/furnace

Have a professional inspect and service your home heating system.

Check the furnace filter monthly, replace as instructed by the manufacturer.

Portable space heaters

When purchasing a space heater, look for the UL label.

Place space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn like furniture and curtains. Remember, space heaters need space.

An adult should be in the room when a space heater is on.

Turn off the space heater when leaving the room or going to sleep.

Fireplace/wood burning stoves

Use dry, seasoned hard woods. Don't burn wrapping paper or boxes since this could start a chimney fire.

Keep furniture and other items which can burn at least 3 feet away.

Have a professional chimney sweep inspect and clean your chimney.

Use a fireplace screen or glass doors to keep embers inside the fireplace.

Place ashes in a metal container outdoors at least 24 hours before disposal.

Keep young children away from working fireplaces and wood stoves.

Use the correct appliance

Use the stove/oven for cooking food, not for heating.

Never use a gas/charcoal grill inside the home or closed garage.

A portable electric generator must be operated in an outside area, never indoors.

General tips

Install at least one smoke alarm on each floor level of the home and inside or near sleeping areas.

Install at least one carbon monoxide (CO) alarm near sleeping areas.

Plan a home escape plan with 2 ways out of each room. Practice your plan to make sure it works.

For more information, go to,, or

Source: Temple Fire Department

Tips to prevent a Christmas fire

Buy flame-retardant artificial trees.

Water actual Christmas trees daily.

Clean dried or dead needles from the tree.

Connect no more than three strands of lights to one socket.

Do not use lights with frayed or torn wires.

Turn off all decorations before leaving the house or going to sleep.

Keep candles and space heaters away from flammable items such as blankets, sheets, clothes and paper.

Clean chimneys before use.

Clean and inspect all heaters, especially propane, before use.

Replace batteries for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Holiday Gift Ideas under $30

Trying to find the perfect gift can be a challenge. To reduce shopping stress, the men and women of Temple Fire & Rescue offer the following holiday gift suggestions. One size fits all.

Smoke alarms – Smoke alarms older than 10 years may fail to detect smoke particles and alert the occupants. Install a smoke alarm on each floor level and inside or near sleeping areas. Follow manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance.

Carbon monoxide alarms – You can't detect carbon monoxide with your senses. CO is a deadly gas that is produced by fuel-burning heating equipment, such as furnaces, wood stoves, fireplaces and kerosene heaters. Install at least one CO alarm outside your sleeping areas.

NOAA "All Hazards" weather radio – Springtime weather in Central Texas can be unpredictable. Receive Watches and Warnings from the National Weather Service. In addition, other natural disasters and national emergencies are broadcast when appropriate. A battery backup ensures uninterrupted power.

CPR Anytime kit – Family & Friends CPR Anytime is a self-directed, personal CPR kit that makes learning the core skills of CPR easy, convenient, affordable and fun for the whole family. It takes just 22 minutes to learn and can be done anywhere. The cost of the kit is only $15 and is available from the Temple Area CPR Task Force. Kits will be sold at the CPR Kiosk at Temple Mall from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. Kits are also available at the Temple Public Library, Central Fire Station and in Salado at the Village Voice Office on Mill Creek Drive. Additional information is available at

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