Candlelight Safety: Safe Christmas Services

Candlelight Safety: Safe Christmas Services

The holidays are an exciting time, and many religious organizations see a peak in services, patrons, and with those increases the risk of incident raises. Many beautiful services require an increase of electrical cords and connections, candles, and fire hazards. Recognizing fire hazard prevention in religious organizations is one way to ensure that your place of worship is protected during the holiday season.

Candles and Fire Risk

Candles are used in various religious services and ceremonies and can be an essential part of worship. However, they can pose serious fire risks to religious institutions and should be used with caution. This article discusses the risks candles pose and how to mitigate them.

The Risks
Candles are a fire hazard that can cause harm to people and property. According to the National Fire Protection Association, of the 1,780 church fires reported each year in the United States, 4% are started by an open flame.
Church fires also peak during December since there is an increased use of seasonal decorations, including wreaths, straw, wooden crèches and draped fabric. In addition to property damage, all religious organizations are at risk of candles causing harm to attendees. Hot wax can come into contact with skin or clothing, and hair could come into contact with the flame.
Minimizing Risk
To prevent fire damage, religious organizations must exercise caution when using candles. The best way to minimize risk is to use flameless candles since there is no open flame. Flameless candles also use little power, last a long time and look like real candles.
If real candles are used, consider the following safe practices:

Choose slow-burning candles. Cheaper, low-quality candles will burn quickly, allowing the flame to get dangerously close to foliage or decorations.

– Keep combustible materials away. Place candles in metal holders on noncombustible surfaces like stone or brick. Be sure to use holders that are capable of handling dripping wax.

– Assign responsible people to handle and blow out candles. Great care must be taken when people hold candles during ceremonies. Supervise children to ensure they don’t get too close to other people or combustible materials. Have trusted members ensure all candles are blown out.

– Keep matches and lighting devices in a secure spot. Store any materials involved in lighting the candles out of the reach of children.

– Have accessible fire extinguishers and fire blankets. Be sure to train people how to use fire extinguishers properly.

– Practice life safety. Keep exits clear at all times and have an emergency exit plan for evacuating the building promptly. The plan should also account for those with mobility issues.

Taking simple precautions can ensure that candles are a safe part of religious ceremonies.

Sprinkler Systems at Religious Organizations

Fires are a major risk to religious organizations. Each year in the United States, there is an average of 1,780 fires in religious organizations. Damage from a fire can be more than just a financial burden. Religious buildings are often historical or contain works of art, artifacts or relics that can’t be replaced.

A sprinkler system is a proven way to provide fire protection at your organization. In fact, research shows damages caused by fire were 73% less severe when religious institutions had a sprinkler system in place. Review the following for more information on implementing and maintaining a sprinkler system at your organization.


A poorly maintained sprinkler system is effectively the same as not having a sprinkler system at all. The damages incurred by fire can be just as severe if the sprinkler system is not properly installed and maintained. A neglected sprinkler system can also cause its own damage. Here are some of the risks associated with sprinkler systems.

Maintenance—Regular maintenance is required to keep sprinkler systems functioning at full capacity.

Closed valves—According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 59% of the fires where sprinkler systems failed to operate, the water had been turned off. This may occur as a result of human error, an accident during maintenance, leakage concerns or intentional tampering.

Water damage—Even if the sprinkler system activates accordingly, it can cause water damage. If sprinkler heads are damaged, they may leak or dump water. These sprinkler systems typically operate with a fusible piece which may melt or burst in higher temperatures. Additionally, wet systems rely on charged water pipes, which keep water under pressure. These systems can burst if the temperature gets too low. The resulting water damage can destroy an organization’s library books, paper documents, archives and other delicate artifacts.


If your organization does not have a sprinkler system already in place, see if one can be installed. It may not be feasible to add sprinkler systems to an existing structure. However, if your organization is able to add a sprinkler system or if it already has a sprinkler system in place, maintenance is key for continued functionality. The following are methods to keep sprinklers working properly:

Inspections—Sprinkler systems should be inspected annually by an accredited individual. Ensure valves are “supervised”; this entails monitoring system valves so that issues can be fixed before they result in serious problems, such as a water shut-off incident. Valves should either be locked open or electronically supervised.

During inspections, you should also ensure that Fire Department Connections are clear and accessible. This allows the fire department to push more water through in case of an emergency.

Sprinkler shut-off preparation—Be prepared to shut off the sprinkler system if it’s set off through damage. You should know where the sprinkler shut offs are and train key people to be able to shut them off and prevent undue damage.

Other fire protection systems—A pre-action sprinkler system is an option for organizations looking to reduce the risk of an accidental release of water. These systems operate with a dry pipe. For the sprinklers to activate, the pre-action system must first identify a fire and then open the pre-action valve. The dual action required to release water provides added protection against undue water damage.

Gas-based systems are another alternative. If a fire occurs, these systems will release a mixture of gases to extinguish the fire. But, gas-based systems will only work in tightly sealed rooms where the gas can’t escape.

General Fire Protection

While important, sprinkler systems are just one step to protect your building from fire. Additional fire prevention measures should be adopted, especially if your building does not have a sprinkler system. Some of these measures include:

Fire extinguishers—Ensure fire extinguishers are up to date and easily accessible.

Alarms—Test alarms regularly and replace batteries yearly. A functioning alarm system will help detect fires quickly.

Protection plans—Implement a fire protection plan at your organization. This includes identifying potential sources of fire and making plans reduce the likelihood of occurrence.

Preventing fires is not a one-off occasion. Regular maintenance is required to keep fire prevention systems functioning properly. With adequate care, however, the risk of fire can be greatly reduced. For more information on how to protect your organization, contact Byars|Wright Insurance today, or connect with us online.

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