By Kelline Linton, Chief Copy Editor
With the holidays approaching, students can expect all the joys of Christmas-family, food and presents-but should not overlook the sinister safety hazards special to the season.
As finals week winds to a close and students pack their vehicles and prepare for the journey home, the ACU Police Department stresses travel as the No. 1 safety concern.
“Travel safety starts with making sure you get enough sleep, enough rest before you hit the road,” said Jimmy Ellison, chief of ACU Police Department.
Ellison recommends sharing driving responsibilities or taking frequent breaks to prevent driving fatigue. Recognize the signs of highway hypnosis,” he said. “Anytime you’re behind the wheel for two or three hours, you start getting tired, things are monotonous and before you know it, you’re dozing off and you’re swerving.”
Sleepy drivers always can stop at the nearest gas station for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. They also can begin the holiday festivities early by carpooling with friends and singing Christmas carols until hoarse.
Although snow is traditional Christmas weather, unpredictable climate changes like sleet and ice can ruin any merry holiday. Ellison recommends students check the weather conditions on their driving routes before leaving ACU.
“You might be driving home to Kansas, and it might be 80 degrees in Abilene but snowing in Oklahoma and Kansas,” Ellison said.
Although bad weather is a hazard, drinking and driving can have worse consequences.
“The holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year, is traditionally the time of year law enforcement sees the worst accidents and deaths stemming from alcohol- elated impaired judgment,” according to Associated Content.
Texas leads the nation in alcohol related accidents; Texas police arrested 94,605 people for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2007; the age group with the most DUI arrestees was the 20-to- 4-year-old set with almost 18,000 arrests, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
To prevent drunk driving, DPS will have all available troopers patrolling Texas roads during the Christmas weekend.
When preparing for the trip home, students need to move their bicycles inside their houses and residence hall rooms to prevent holiday thieves from snatching free gifts. Bike thefts spike during the Christmas break, Ellison said.
Vehicles also can be parked in the campus’ interior lots so they are less enticing to burglars.
“For all practical purposes, the campus is deserted for a month, and so we have less eyes and ears to report things to us,” he said.
Students with houses should lock their residences and stop their mail and newspaper deliveries if they are leaving for an extended time period.
“A three-week pile of newspapers and an oversized mailbox is like a neon sign for a burglar,” Ellison said.
Once students are home for the holidays, new safety concerns arise.
A glass of milk and a plate of cookies await Santa Claus this Christmas Eve, but the jolly man might not make it if he cannot fit down the chimney. The best solution to avoid such a horrible hazard? Clean the chimney, removing all obstructions.
Chimneys should be inspected and cleaned every three years, said Gary Hamner, public education officer for the Abilene Fire Department.
The black carbon that accumulates in chimneys is highly flammable, and overheating a chimney can loosen bricks, allowing fire to sneak into attics and walls.
“It can become an explosive situation if bad enough,” Hamner said.
Chimney inspectors not only clean the black carbon from the chimney’s interior but also check for and remove birds’ nests and other barriers, ensuring the chimney is ready to accommodate merry Saint Nick.
During the holidays, cooking fires, candles and heating units like chimneys are always problems for the Abilene Fire Department, Hamner said.
Although red cinnamonscented candles add a festive touch, lit candles should never be left unattended.
Heating units are hazards especially for wrapping paper and Christmas trees. Central heating and air-conditioning devices dry the trees, making them more susceptible to fire.
“Christmas trees should be placed at least 6 feet from heaters and fireplaces,” Hamner said. “Wrapping paper should never be left near space heaters.”
Tearing open presents and throwing the striped and dotted wrapping papers all over the living room floor, creating a sea of red and green, is one of the holiday’s most sacred traditions, but students should not forget the accompanying fire risks. If nothing else, think of loveable pets like Fido and Fluffy choking on discarded papers before leaving the mess cleanup for another day.
Decorating for Christmas also can generate safety risks. “People overload their electrical circuits and fall off their ladders,” Hamner said.
Shayne White, ER medical director with Abilene Regional Medical Center, said he rarely sees people who fall off ladders or roofs.
“These tend to be the worst injuries when they do happen because they can lead to broken bones and punctured lungs,” he said.
As students decorate their Christmas trees, they should keep a wary eye on grandpa’s antique Christmas ornament. That family heirloom may contain a deadly hazard-a tetanus- infested, rusty hook.
Although sparkly, glass ornaments are a beautiful holiday addition, most boast sharp hooks that can sadden anyone’s day with an unexpected slip.
The greatest worry for most families is a burnt ham. “We’ll see our share of cooking fires,” Hamner said.
White said holiday injuries at the ER tend to be kitchenrelated knife accidents. “Guess nobody cooks but during the holidays,” he said.
When students carve the ham or turkey, White recommends they cut away from their body.
Family and food may be a good mixture, but fellowship should never be a distraction from a sharp knife or unattended open flame, whether on the stove or grill.
“Every year a family loses a home in Abilene,” Hamner said. “Space heaters, candles, stoves-they burn a house down every year.”
As students take full advantage of their winter break to enjoy the holidays with family and friends, they can keep these possible hazards in mind to ensure a safe and merry Christmas.
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