Passersby have likely noticed the big wreath adorned with red glowing bulbs hanging on the fire bell in front of Pequot Lakes City Hall on Main Street.

Those passersby may not realize the wreath is much more than a pretty holiday decoration, or that three bulbs are white.

The Pequot Lakes Fire Department is participating in the "Keep the Wreath Red" public safety project. The wreath was hung with all red bulbs, and each time the fire department has a fire call, a white bulb replaces a red bulb.

The goal is to have a visual reminder to help raise public awareness of calls that firefighters respond to during the holidays. The wreath was hung at Thanksgiving and will stay up through mid-January.

“This project is a way to help maintain holiday safety with the presence of this visible reminder of calls,” Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson wrote in a memo to the city council.

The fire department’s Facebook page post about the program has received a lot of attention, Nelson said.

“Our goal is to help promote safety and keep the wreath red,” the fire department wrote on its Facebook page.

The three white bulbs represent fire calls to a fatal snowmobile accident Nov. 30 in Pequot Lakes, to a mutual aid structure fire in Crosslake on Dec. 1, and to a motor vehicle accident on Highway 64 in Cass County on Dec. 7.

Nelson got the idea to hang the wreath from a story he read in a fire rescue magazine. He learned that the program originated in 1954 with the Naperville, Illinois, Fire Department. The Illinois Fire Chiefs Association adopted the program in 1980.

While larger fire departments may change bulbs only for structure fire calls, smaller departments incorporate all fire calls.

“It was a good visual for the public to see,” Nelson said, noting as people see the bulbs change from red to white, it should remind them of fire safety precautions that are talked about during National Fire Prevention Week each October. “I thought it was a neat idea and wanted to get it going here.”

Nelson said seasonal fire hazards include unattended cooking, burning candles and heating homes. People with wood stoves or fireplaces need to be sure chimneys are clean and working, and those with furnaces should be sure they are clean and that outdoor vents are clear from snow to avoid carbon monoxide buildup. People who use space heaters must take care too.

“Hopefully it serves as a reminder to keep their home safe,” Nelson said of the wreath.

Nelson said he plans for the Keep the Wreath Red project to be an annual undertaking in Pequot Lakes.

“Keep an eye on it and stay safe,” the fire department said on Facebook.


Holiday fire hazards

According to the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 44% of home Christmas tree fires.

  • 39% of home Christmas tree fires started in the living room; 5% of winter holiday fires started in the chimney or flue; 21% of decoration fires started in the kitchen, while 16% started in the living room, family room or den.

  • 57% of home decoration fires in December were started by candles, compared to 32% or one-third in January through November.

Between 2013-17, fire departments across the United States responded to an average of 160 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees, the NFPA reported. Fire departments responded to an estimated 780 home fires per year that began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees.

The fire association also reports: More than two of every five decoration fires happen because the decorations are placed too close to a heat source; and more than one of every four home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems or because the tree was too close to a heating source.

Holiday decorating tips

  • Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.

  • Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn. Blow them out when a person leaves the room or goes to bed.

  • Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both. Turn them off before leaving the home or going to bed.

  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.

  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.

  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.

Holiday entertaining tips

  • Test the smoke alarms and tell guests about the home fire escape plan.

  • Keep children and pets away from lit candles.

  • Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.

  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop.

  • Ask smokers to smoke outside. Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children do not touch them.

  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding.

Christmas tree safety tips

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk.

  • Make sure the tree is at least 3 feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.

  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.

  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

  • Use lights that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.

  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.

  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Source: National Fire Protection Association