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What To Teach Your Child To Detect Fires At Home

Would your child know what to do if he detected a fire in your home? The right answer could save his life.

Dangers of the Unknown

Jonelle, a mother of two in Las Vegas, Nev., asked her son what he would do if he heard a fire alarm or smoke detector sound off. His answer gave her the chills. "He said that he would hide," says Jonelle. She knows how hard it would be to find her son if he hid during a fire. This response prompted Jonelle and her husband to teach their children what they should do in the event of a fire.

Fire Safety Tactics

What should you teach your child to do if he detects a fire in the home? "The actions to take would vary, depending on the time of day and where the fire is located," says Jim Sheppard, chairman, Public Fire Safety and Education Unit at the Levittown, Pa. Fire Company #1.

If the fire occurs during the day and the child was awake and not in bed before detecting the fire, the first thing a child should do is to tell an adult in the home, if it is safe to do so. If the child awakens from sleep and discovers fire, "Roll out of bed and crawl across the floor to the bedroom door," says Sheppard. "I call this the 'Stay Low and Go method.'"

Sheppard recommends that parents teach their children the following:

  • Get out and stay out! Toys, clothes and other things can be replaced. People cannot.
  • Never try to put a fire out by yourself. This wastes valuable escape time.
  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) from a neighbor's house.
  • Close as many doors between the fire and the rest of the house as safely as possible.
  • Sleep with bedroom doors shut.
  • To detect fire behind a door, feel the door with the back of your hand, which is more sensitive than your palm.

What if you detect a fire behind a closed door, but the door does not feel warm? "Brace your body against the door and open it slowly. There may be deadly smoke in the hallway, and you may need to slam it shut," says Sheppard.

Serious Fire Safety Training

Shelley Caldwell resides in Twin Peaks, Calif. with daughters Alllie, 12, Brynna, 9, and Nicole, 6. Fire safety awareness is serious business in the Caldwell home.

"We have night lights throughout the house," says Caldwell. "You would be surprised how disoriented you get in the dark, even when you are in your own home. Nightlights can help to light exit paths in an emergency."

Caldwell says that her family has prepared a fire/emergency escape plan, which they practice at least twice a year. "Different scenarios are practiced to become familiar with alternative exiting options in the event an exit is blocked in an emergency."

What if the children are in unfamiliar surroundings at night? "When the girls go to stay the night at a friend or relative's house, an adult goes over the fire/emergency escape plan with them," says Caldwell. "They have to know how to get out in an emergency and where the meeting place is."

Fire Awareness in the Works

Caldwell shares the fire safety lessons and practices that are in place in her home today:

  • Know two ways out of every room in the house, especially sleeping areas.
  • Gather at the pre-designated family meeting place in the event of a fire.
  • Don't forget to "stop, drop and roll" if your clothes catch on fire. Cover your face with your hands.
  • After calling 911, hang up only when told to do so by the operator.
  • Advise babysitters and overnight guests of the household escape plan.
  • Make sure everyone in the home knows the address, telephone number and nearest cross street.
  • Never play with matches, lighters, barbecue lighters or fire.
  • Make sure exit paths are not blocked with "stuff" at bedtime.
  • Keep your distance from things that are hot -- the stove, fireplace, irons, heaters, candles.
  • Keep flammable items away from heat sources.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, children start approximately 100,000 fires each year that hurt people and cause damage. Their Web site provides information on smoke alarms, escape planning, home fire safety and fire awareness games.

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