It is crucial that parents offer proper guidance to even very young children about the dangers of fire to avoid burns, fire deaths, and fire setting. Learn how to protect your family and teach your children effective, potentially life-saving fire safety skills.
There’s something fascinating about fire. Adults and children are entranced by crackling campfires, comforted by the warmth of a wood-burning stove, even mesmerized by glowing candlelight. It’s no wonder that even toddlers are curious about how to make fire, what it feels like, and how it looks. Yet when young children lack the understanding of fire’s danger, the results can be devastating and even deadly.
Curious Kids Set Fires
According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), about 300 people are killed and $280 million in property is destroyed annually in incidents attributed to children playing with fire. Children under age 5 are naturally curious about fire, and what often begins as an exploration of an intriguing element can become tragic; the USFA estimates children of all ages set more than 100,000 fires annually, and more than 30 percent of the fires that kill children are set by children playing with fire. Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that most of the people killed in child-set fires are younger than 6; such fires are the leading cause of fire deaths among preschoolers.
Yet fires started by children are largely preventable. It is crucial that parents offer proper guidance to even very young children about the dangers of fire to avoid burns, fire deaths, and fire setting. Parents should also serve as positive role models when handling matches and lighters or dealing with fires and should teach children what to do in case of fire, regardless of how a fire starts.
Smoke Alarms Save Lives
Both the USFA and the NFPA strongly urge people to install smoke alarms on all levels of their homes. The NFPA estimates that 94 percent of homes in the United States have at least one smoke alarm, and these homes typically have a death rate that is 40 to 50 percent lower than the rate for homes without alarms.
Smoke alarms must be kept in good working condition if they’re going to be effective. Parents should test smoke alarms monthly, making sure children recognize the sound of an alarm and know what to do if they hear that signal. It is vital that households replace alarm batteries at least once a year—many fire safety organizations encourage scheduled battery replacements for the same day you change your clock from daylight to standard time in the fall. It’s also important to replace smoke alarms every 10 years and practice proper smoke alarm maintenance.
Home Sprinkler Systems
While smoke alarms can double your chances of surviving a fire, adding sprinklers and smoke alarms increases your family’s chance of surviving a fire by more than 97 percent. You may never have considered getting sprinklers for your home, yet they are affordable. The Residential Fire Safety Institute says “sprinklers add about 1 percent or less to the cost of a new home. This is about the same cost as upgrading carpeting.” And while carpeting must be replaced eventually, fire sprinklers should last for the life of your house.
Not only do sprinklers save people, they can save property, too. RFSI refers to home fire sprinklers as “instant firefighters” and claims “property damage is nine times lower in sprinklered homes.” Individual sprinkler heads will not release water until heated by fire, meaning only the property in the area of the fire will get wet. In addition, fire sprinklers can increase your property value and lower your insurance rates.
RFSI says residential sprinklers are smal l— nearly unnoticeable — and most often can be connected to standard home plumbing.
Plan and Practice Your Escape
There’s a truth behind the saying “spreads like wildfire.” According to the Seattle Fire Department, “A typical living room fire can threaten the entire house in just a few minutes, producing life-threatening conditions in upstairs bedrooms less than two minutes after the smoke alarm sounds.” Sound scary? It is—and that’s why families must formulate and practice a home fire escape plan that everyone, even the children, understands. The following are tips from the NFPA for organizing your plan:
- Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan showing two ways out of each room, including windows. Don’t forget to mark the location of each smoke alarm.
- Test all smoke alarms (listed by a qualified testing laboratory) monthly to ensure that they work. Replace batteries as needed.
- Make sure everyone understands the escape plan and recognizes the sound of the smoke alarm. Are the escape routes clear? Can doors and windows be opened easily?
- If windows or doors in your home have security bars, make sure the bars have quick-release mechanisms on the inside so that they can be opened immediately in an emergency. Quick-release mechanisms won’t compromise your security and they will increase your chances of safely escaping a home fire.
- Practice the escape plan at least twice a year, making sure that everyone is involved — from kids to grandparents. Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill. If children or others do not readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm, or if there are infants or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in a fire drill and in the event of an emergency.
- Agree on an outside meeting place where everyone can gather after they’ve escaped. Remember to get out first, then call for help. Never go back inside until the fire department gives the OK.
- Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a cellular phone or a neighbor’s home.
- Be fully prepared for a real fire: When a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately. And once you’re out, stay out — leave the firefighting to the professionals!
- If you live in an apartment building, make sure you’re familiar with the building’s evacuation plan. In case of a fire, use the stairs, never the elevator.
- Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family’s fire escape plan. When visiting other people’s homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don’t have a plan in place, offer to help them make one.
Fire Safety for Parents
In addition to using smoke alarms and sprinklers and having a planned escape route, the USFA offers these potentially life-saving tips for parents:
- Supervise young children closely. Do not leave them alone even for short periods of time.
- Keep matches, lighters, and other ignitable in a secured drawer or cabinet out of the reach of children. Have your children tell you when they find matches and lighters.
- Check under beds and in closets for burned matches, evidence your child may be playing with fire.
- Always dress children in pajamas that meet federal flammability standards. Avoid dressing children for sleep in loose-fitting, 100 percent cotton garments, such as oversized T-shirts.
- Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy. Teach children the nature of fire. It is FAST, HOT, DARK, and DEADLY!
- Teach children not to hide from firefighters, but to get out quickly and call for help from another location.
- Show children how to crawl low on the floor, below the smoke, to get out of the house and stay out in the case of fire.
- Demonstrate how to stop, drop to the ground, and roll if their clothes catch fire.