As parents and teachers, teaching our children about the potential for disasters is a difficult but necessary undertaking. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2013 fire departments in the U.S. responded to more than 1,240,000 fires. Below we will take a look at how to educate your children about how to stay safe if a house fire were to strike.
The Statistics on House Fires in the United States
Of the 1,240,000 fires reported in 2013 to the U.S. fire departments, 15,925 civilian injuries and 3,240 civilian deaths resulted. It is estimated that a $11.5 billion in property loss as a direct result of fire was caused. Below you will find some more important key statistics pertaining to house fires in the United States:
- 25% of home fires in 2013 began in the bedroom.
- The room of the home at biggest risk for causing home structure fires is the kitchen with a 37% fire rate. Cooking is the primary cause of home structure fires and the injuries that they cause.
- The most prevalent cause of home fire deaths among civilians is smoking.
- The most often seen time of a fire outbreak is between 5pm and 8pm, which is no surprise due to the amount of fires attributed to kitchen use.
- Of the civilian deaths attributed to home fires, 62% occurred in homes that had no smoke alarm systems or had smoke alarm systems that were not functional.
- From 1977 through to 2010 the overall number of fires and the number of civilian deaths they caused have declined. The amount of direct property damage in dollars has fluctuated when taken in comparable modern-day figures.
Teaching Children about Fire
For adults and children alike, the concept of fire is a scary one. It is important when discussing fire safety with children to keep material age appropriate and avoid using scare tactics. Most children are aware of the concept of fire and simply require education in fire safety protocol. Fire safety can be taught in a number of ways to help children understand without fear.
Teaching through Field Trips
One of the most often used methods of teaching children about fire safety is through field trips to local fire stations. These trips expose children to firemen and women and allow them to tour the firehouse and explore the fire engine. This type of exposure allows for children to take a hands on learning approach while being given fire safety tips by professionals. Visiting a local fire station is often a routine class field trip for most schools; however, it is also something that families can arrange themselves.
Teaching through Guest Speakers
Another common approach to teaching children about fire safety is inviting guest speakers in to the class room or home. Most often this guest speaker is a fire marshal or fire fighter. While guest speakers often provide a wealth of information, it is important to ensure that they also provide hands on information. All too often guest speakers talk at children which lead to them quickly becoming bored. Guest speakers that engage children with questions and “props” that teach about fire safety are most likely to be successful.
Teaching through Reading
Reading is one of the most versatile teaching tools available to us as parents and teachers. Not only can reading be tailored to specific age groups for age appropriate teaching, but it can also help children to identify with their peers and emotions. There are many great books available that cover topics such as fire safety, living through a fire and how to rebuild after a fire. All three of these topics are important ones to address with children in order to teach fire safety as well as decrease the amount of psychological trauma a child suffers after experiencing a fire.
Teaching through Movies
Most children these days have an affinity to television and movies which makes this a valuable teaching technique for fire safety. As with books, there are many varied approaches to teaching fire safety through movies. Children can learn how to prevent and stay safe during fires as well as watch cartoons or movies that feature age appropriate fire scenes and the characters responses. Here’s a video clip from the National Fire Protection Association to share with children. After showing them the video, ask if they have any questions to open up the conversation further.
Teaching through Shopping
Teaching through shopping may seem like an unusual teaching method, but it is one that works for some people. If you live in a home where you have no fire safety equipment or where this equipment needs replacing, involving children in the purchasing process can open up lines of discussion.
Fire Safety Products as Teaching Tools
Fire safety products can make great teaching tools not only to provide more engaging presentations of information, but also to teach children how to use them should a fire ever occur. Some fire safety products to consider for this purpose include:
- Fire extinguishers
- Fire blankets
- Fire ladders
- Smoke detectors and alarms
- Fire escape hoods
Key Points in Fire Safety for Kids
As adults we often take for granted what we learn about fire safety. Whether it is information we are taught throughout our lives or whether it is something we learned from television, we all obtain this knowledge from somewhere. It is important to provide our children with an equally comprehensive guide.
Stop, Drop and Roll
Stop, drop and roll is the most commonly taught aspect of fire safety in schools. Stop drop and roll is a technique that teaches children to stop moving, drop to the floor and roll in order to extinguish fire. The stop, drop and roll safety method is designed to extinguish fire on hair or clothing. This safety mechanism can be used in combination with traditional firefighting equipment as well as if this equipment is not available. The initial phase of the stop, drop and roll movement (stopping) is designed to reduce the chance of fanning the flames and causing the fire to worsen. Dropping teaches children to drop to the floor and cover their face in order to make fire fighting techniques more efficient and to reduce injury to the face. Rolling will effectively “squash” the fire, depriving it of the oxygen it needs to burn.
Always Remain Calm
The tip to “always remain calm” is somewhat amusing to those of us who have experienced a fire because it is generally the last thing you think to do. However, remaining as calm as possible is important to overall safety. Being able to keep a calm head will help you to remember the advised fire safety protocols and help to ensure that everyone escapes the fire unharmed.
Move Away From the Smoke
If a fire breaks out in the home, it is important to always move away from the smoke. If you see smoke coming from underneath a door, find an alternate escape route. If smoke has already infiltrated the room, drop to the floor and crawl towards safety. The air closer to the ground is more breathable than the air higher up in the room.
Be Aware of Heat
The first priority for anyone during a fire is to escape safely; however, escaping safely means being aware of the heat that accompanies fire. Even if smoke is not visible under a door, it is possible that the door is already scalding hot from the head of the fire. Before opening any door, feel it with the back of your hand to see if it is hot. If the door is hot, look for another escape route. Opening a door that shows signs of heat can lead to a back draft.
Stay Close to the Windows
If you are trapped in a room with one door that has already been ruled out because of the presence of heat, you should stay by a window. A window will allow for rescue crews to spot you, particularly if you make the effort to signal for help.
As soon as you reach safety during a house fire, it is important to call 9-1-1. Calling 9-1-1 will send the fire brigade to your home as well as other emergency personnel who can help to get the fire under control. Calling 9-1-1 will also ensure that anyone hurt by the fire receives medical attention. When calling 9-1-1 it is important that a child know their name, address and how to express what has happened. It is important that children also understand that if a working phone is not available, they can go to a neighbor’s home to use their phone. As a parent it is your responsibility to tell your child which neighbor they should go to in order to avoid additional trouble.
Do NOT Go Back Inside the House
One of the most difficult concepts about house fires to teach children is that they should not return to the home. Even in cases where a fire may seem as though it is under control it is possible for re-igniting to occur. Children should be told that they should not return to a home that has experienced a fire unless they are told to do so by the firemen or women on the scene. Although difficult, it should be made very clear that even if their favorite teddy bear, family dog or parent or sibling is still inside the home, they should not risk their life by going back inside a burning building.
Do Not Use the Stove without an Adult to Help
The stove is the source of a large majority of house fires. With inexperienced hands on the stove it is increasingly likely that accidents will happen so it is crucial that children of all ages be advised of potential dangers. Educating children about stove use is not only crucial in preventing the likelihood of fires, but it is also an important step in preventing serious burns.
Know the Fire Escape Plan
Every family should have a fire escape plan. A fire escape plan is a plan of action that every family member should be familiar with so that they can escape the home in the event of a house fire.
The first step for most families in a fire escape plan is to wake up everyone in the household; the chances are that the smoke alarm has already done that. Avoid opening doors that are hot to the touch and drop to the floor to crawl underneath smoke. If your family is on a second floor, you should try to meet in a location where it is easiest to drop from a window if the stairway is blocked. Lower family members out of the window one at a time. Ensure that children are passed down first and not left until last. If you have a fire safety ladder it should be kept near this safest “drop point.”
Cover Gaps to Reduce Smoke Inhalation
In the event that you become trapped within a room of the house by smoke or fire outside the door, reducing smoke can help to prolong quality air. After ensuring that the door is closed, place towels, blankets or spare clothes against the gap in the door. Wetting these towels can help to reduce any leakage of smoke. If there is a telephone available call 9-1-1 for assistance, if not stay close to the window so that onlookers and fire rescue teams can see that you are there. If smoke is thick drop to the floor to reduce inhalation since smoke and heat both rise. If smoke is thick but you need assistance try to hang something out of the window to attract attention and then drop to the floor where it is safer to breathe.
Carry a Wet Towel
Wet towels can also help block smoke from being inhaled while waiting for help to arrive or while moving through the house. While moving through the home to safety hold the wet towel up to your face and cover your mouth and nose both, taking short breaths. It is important however, to remember that time is a factor in escaping your home safely during a fire.
DON’T Stop to Pick Up Items
Even a second can cost you your life during a fire so it is important not to stop to pick up any possessions or mementos no matter how significant they may be. It is crucial that children understand that during a time of crisis, human life is always more important than possessions.
Fire Prevention Starts at Home
Teaching fire prevention is just as important as teaching fire safety, in fact the two are one entity in essence.
Maintain Your Smoke Alarms
One of the best ways to teach children to be proactive in fire prevention is to make them part of smoke detector maintenance. Once a month, every month all smoke alarms in the home should be tested. Encourage your children to take part in this process. Every spring and every fall all smoke alarms in the home should also receive fresh batteries. It is easy to remember to change batteries by doing it during the time changes. By getting your children to help with these activities you will create within them a habit that they will hopefully pass on to their children as well.
Close Doors behind You
This small tidbit of information is one that many people are not familiar with; however, it is a very effective tool in proactive fire prevention. While closing a door behind you will not prevent a fire, it will slow down the spread of a fire and help to minimize the damage caused by contained fires. Encouraging children to close their bedroom door at night may be a struggle for some parents, but it is a tip that should be followed when possible.
Keep a Flashlight beside the Bed
Keeping a flashlight beside the bed is a great tip that falls somewhere between fire prevention and fire safety. A large portion of house fires result in power outages, keeping a flashlight next to the bed can help your child to navigate their way through the home in the dark. It is important to remember that even a small fire in a utility closet can knock out power so darkness can hit even before the fire burns out of control.
Purchase Fire Retardant or Snug Fitting Night Attire
As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your child’s night attire is approved by current fire safety standards. This means that the night wear should be made from an inherently flame retardant material like polyester or it should be snug fitting. There is a third option, purchasing garments that have been treated to make them fire-retardant; however, recent research indicates that the chemicals used in the treatment process have long-term health effects. For this reason, many parents opt to purchase softer but more snugly fitting pajamas for their children. The reason that snug fitting garments are fire safety approved is due to the fact that there is no circulation of oxygen to feed a flame that could catch the material.
Making Fire Safety Fun
Fire safety is not a joking matter but that doesn’t mean that learning about fire safety can’t be fun. In fact, in order to help kids remember important fire safety tips, fire safety lessons should be made fun. Incorporating hands on fun with key fire safety points and information children can relate to is the best combination for a successful educational program. In addition to making lessons interesting, it is also always important to present only age appropriate information. It is not necessary to lie to young children about the dangers of fire and the importance of fire safety; however, it is necessary to present information in a format that they can relate to. Scaring a child of any age is not going to improve their fire safety knowledge; rather it will likely cause more immediate concerns such as anxiety and nightmares.
Got any safety tips you’d like to share? You never know, it could save a life!