Happy Holidays! Unseasonably warm weather in the greater Chicago area has given us a chance to set up decorations for our favorite celebrations early and to better effect! It’s impossible to drive down any street without seeing a myriad of lights, inflatable Santas, and wreaths adorning the houses and businesses in our district. Looking at fire departments as you drive past, you will notice one decoration we all seem to have in common, a wreath in front, decorated in red bulbs. You might also see the phrase “Keep the Wreath Red” or a similar challenge to you.

What does it mean to keep the wreath red? Where did this idea come from?

The “Keep the Wreath Red” program was established in 1954 by an Illinois Paid-On-Call Firefighter, Paul Boecker. The program is a visual reminder for us to take safety precautions during the holiday season to make it a safe one for our families and loved ones.

“Keep the Wreath Red” was adopted by the IFCA (Illinois Fire Chiefs Association) in 1980 to alert residents of fires caused by holiday decorations, and promote prevention through awareness. All of the wreaths bulbs are initially red, if a fire is directly caused by holiday decorations, one red bulb will be changed to a white one.

So…how do we keep the wreath red this year? When decorating your homes and businesses, pay attention to the instructions on your decorations. Lights have specific overload limits that must be adhered to, and are labeled to let you know how many you may string together. Make sure extension cords aren’t in footpaths or areas they could become damaged.

Christmas trees account for 250 fires annually, resulting in 14 deaths, 26 injuries and more than $13.8 million in property damage. Shorts in electrical lights and open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Well-watered trees are not a problem. Dry and neglected trees can be, so water your holiday tree and keep it away from open flames and space heaters too.

Remember when lighting candles that they should be extinguished at the end of the festivities, and to check your candle holders to see that they can handle the heat, and aren’t just for decorative purposes.

That wreath in the front of our firehouse is a testament to your safety and care, so Keep the Wreath Red this year!