Holiday Decorating Guidance

The Division of the Fire Marshal wishes everyone a safe and enjoyable winter holiday season. To that end, we are disseminating the following information to help us all celebrate safely here at the NIH. Much of this is equally appropriate for your home.

In following this guidance, you may potentially avoid risks associated with holiday tree lightening and decorating, especially including one primary holiday fire hazard, natural trees as seen in a dramatic video.  

When can trees be displayed? Monday, December 6 through Friday, January 7.

What type of trees are allowed?

  • No trees allowed: corridors and stairways in all buildings: no trees allowed.
  • Artificial trees only: Laboratories, assembly areas (such as auditoriums and conferences rooms with a posted occupant load of 50 or more), The Children's Inn, The Family Lodge, Buildings 15H and 15I, and dormitory areas in Building 60.
  • Balled or artificial trees only: Patient care units and clinics and Other areas not protected by fire sprinkler systems.
  • Cut, balled, or artificial trees: Other areas protected by fire sprinkler systems and 15 group duplexes occupied as residences.

Tree limitations:

  • Artificial trees must be labeled as fire retardant.
  • Natural trees (cut or balled) may not exceed five feet in height and must be kept watered daily.
  • Cut trees must have the trunk freshly trimmed just before display.
  • Balled trees must have the root ball and soil wrapped in burlap.
  • Trees must be promptly removed by January 7, or earlier if dried out.



Other guidance:

  • Egress: place trees, lights and decorations so as not to obstruct the path to any exit.
  • Candles: Never use open-flame candles, including menorahs.
  • Decorations: Use only non-combustible or fire-retardant items; prohibited on fire-rated doors.
  • Lights: Use only listed lights with wiring in good condition; do not hang on sprinkler heads or pipes; unplug at end of each work-day; and never use lights on metal artificial trees.
  • Electric: Use power strips and not extension cords; do not run under carpets or other materials/equipment.

Additional guidance is available through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) web page on holiday fire safety.

The requirements above are based on the NFPA Fire Code and apply to NIH-owned facilities. Questions may be directed to the Division of the Fire Marshal at 301-496-0487. For guidance in leased facilities, contact the local fire marshal or fire department.

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