By Gordon Williams
Fire Prevention Week is October 8-14 this year, and Lisa Braxton of the National Fire Protection Association thinks it is a great time for parents to drill kids–young kids especially–in the lessons of fire safety. Braxton, in the Public Education Division of the NFPA, lays out a five-night set of fire safety exercises the whole family can take part in.
The emphasis on schooling the very young in fire safety is critical, says Braxton, because young children are in the high-risk group for death from a home fire.
Actually, the number of fire deaths for those 14 and under is down 48% from 2006 levels, according to the U.S. Fire Administration–part of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The agency credits “an increase in public fire education and prevention efforts” for the improvement–solid evidence that teaching fire safety saves lives.
The NFPA is deeply involved in fire safety education. It is a nonprofit organization, dating back to 1896, which aims to eliminate death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire and related hazards. It offers a ton of education material–much of it related to Fire Prevention Week, and much of it aimed at kids. Braxton’s five-day fire safety program focuses on NFPA material. Here’s how the program plays out:
- Night One: Every Second Counts: Plan Two Ways Out. That’s the theme of Fire Prevention Week this year–that you have very little time to escape a fire and must plan ahead to make the most of what time you have.
Baxton suggests the whole family join in crafting a home fire escape plan so every member is trained in what to do if there is a fire. Draw a map of your home, using the grid found on the Fire Prevention Week page (firepreventionweek.org of the NFPA website nfpa.org). Mark two exits from each room and trace a path to the outside from each room. Make sure everyone takes a turn at drawing the escape route.
- Night Two: Everybody Out Now. Even the youngest family member must understand the need to get out of the house quickly when they hear the smoke alarm go off.
There is a smoke alarm cut-out at the NFPA kids site (sparky.org). Use it to teach your kids how smoke alarms work, how to test them and what to do when they hear an alarm going off. There are more teaching objects at the site–applications and games and videos all about firefighters and how fires are fought.
Finally the lesson needs to teach kids what to do after they are safely out of the house. There needs to be a family meeting place away from the fire but still nearby. It might be a neighbor’s house or a mailbox. Everyone must know where to meet if they must leave the house.
- Night Three: Go Low Under the Smoke. In a fire, smoke is every bit as dangerous as the flames. This night’s lesson is how to get safely through the smoke,
If there is smoke in one exit, try the second exit. If smoke is everywhere, go low to the ground; smoke rises so you want to go under it. Hold a sheet or blanket three feet or so off the ground to simulate the smoke and have the kids bend low and walk quickly under it. “Trying to crawl will just slow you down,” says Braxton. “Get as low as you can and bend and move fast.”
- Night Four: Make Fire Safety a Learning Experience. The educational material at sparkyschoolhouse.org is meant to teach kids more than fire safety rules. The Learn Not to Burn program–aimed at preschool level– stresses “literacy, movement, music and dramatic play” in addition to fire safety. Other lessons stress math and science. The program covers preschool through Grade 2. Older kids can help the younger ones with their lessons.
- Night Five: Practice What You Learned. Practice your home fire drill. Pretend the smoke alarm has sounded, and get everyone out of the house as quickly as possible. Do the drill several times using different ways of getting out.
Do one drill during the day and another at night when the kids are asleep. Have the kids stage their own drill under your supervision so they learn to escape on their own. Once everyone has gone through the drill successfully, do it again twice a year so the fire safety lessons stay fresh.
And finally, there is this caution from the American Red Cross: Don’t let Fire Prevention Week pass by without testing your smoke alarms and replacing any that are more than 10 years old.
The aim of the Red Cross Home Fires Campaign is to cut home fire deaths by 25 percent by 2020 by installing smoke alarms in homes that don’t have a working alarm and by distributing fire safety material.
Learn more about the Home Fires campaign at www.redcross.org/local/Washington and click on Home Fire Safety. If you need an alarm or know someone who does, go to getasmokealarm.org.