Children, especially those under five, have a much higher chance of dying in home fires than any other age group. This is largely due to the fact that they do not understand the dangers of fire and are not as capable of exiting a home than older children.
For this reason, it is down to you as parents to take extra precautions to reduce the risk of fire in the home and have plans in place to ensure that the children get out safely.
When it comes to fire safety for children, it is important that the three P’s of fire safety are followed. These are:
- Prepare – reduce the risk by eliminating hazards
- Practice – practice evacuation and general fire safety practices
- Prevent – speaks for itself
Have Working Smoke Alarms
The majority of home fire deaths happened because the homeowners did not have smoke alarms installed or those that were installed were not working.
Smoke alarms serve as a first alert, letting your family know there’s imminent danger and providing a few moments warning for you to enact your fire safety plan.
Here in the UK, local fire departments offer to install smoke alarms free of charge so there is no reason not to have them. If you choose to install smoke alarms yourself, follow the advice below:
- Install a smoke alarm on every floor of your home, even the basement.
- Install a smoke alarm outside every sleeping area. Ideally, install smoke alarms in every sleeping area, too.
- Replace smoke alarms after 10 years.
- Test your smoke alarms at least twice annually. You should also change the batteries every six months, at minimum.
Reduce the Threats in the Home
The best fire safety practice to avoid a home fire altogether is to put fire prevention measures in place. This does not mean that you will never have a home fire but it does mean that you have a much better chance of getting everyone out of the home safely if a fire does occur.
Follow these recommendations to address common household fire hazards and protect your family from a home fire catching in your home:
- Don’t overload electric outlets, extension cords or wall sockets.
- Reduce clutter. This is especially important in the kitchen, where dish towels, sponges, paper towels, and other items can catch fire if placed too close to a hot stove. But it’s also important in all areas of your home – blankets and clothing piled up against a heat run, for instance, can also pose a fire hazard.
- Never leave burning candles unattended.
- Keep all matches and lighters out of reach of young children.
- Always have multiple working fire extinguishers conveniently located in your home.
- Replace circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters.
- Replace faulty electrical outlets.
- Give your clothes dryer proper maintenance. Cleaning the lint catcher thoroughly with every load is just the starting point. Over time, lint and other particles can build up in the vent system or dryer cabinet (where the heating element is located) and potentially cause fires.
- Don’t smoke inside, and never smoke indoors where portable oxygen is used.
- Use proper heat sources and conduct regular maintenance.
Have a Home Fire Escape Plan
Many homeowners fail to have a fire escape plan in place that they regularly practice. It is critical that you do this and practice the plan with your children.
FEMA recommends the following steps:
- Keep all exits clear of toys and debris.
- Draw a diagram of your home and plan two escape routes.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Keep children’s doors closed. This slows the time it takes for smoke from hallway fires to enter the room, leaving more time for firefighters to rescue young kids.
- Have a safe meeting place outside the home. It should be far enough away from the structure that you will be safe if the building collapses, but close enough that your kids can get there easily.
Ready.gov offers the following advice on preparing for a fire before it happens
- Always have two routes of escape from every room. In addition to the door, find an alternate escape route, such as a window that leads to a neighboring roof or a window with a collapsible ladder for escaping from upper-story windows.
- Test all windows to ensure that any screens can be removed easily and that the windows aren’t stuck shut from multiple layers of paint or swollen wood frames.
- When you practice fire escape plans, do it in the dark or with your eyes closed. Have kids do the same to ensure they can navigate the way out safely and quickly.
- During your fire escape practice, use multiple scenarios and practice rescuing infants via multiple methods.
- Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your home, especially if you have an infant or toddler.
Tips to Teach Your Kids About Fire Safety
As well as teaching your children how to escape a home fire you should also teach them:
- The Stop, Drop and Roll technique – Stop moving, lie down and roll if clothing catches fire.
- Stay low – Crawl through rooms and hallways to avoid smoke inhalation.
- Never blindly open a door – Touch doors before opening and if they are hot, don’t open them.
- Never re-enter the building once outside.
- Never play with matches or lighters.
Never leave your children unattended around any fire hazard. This includes cooking stoves, candles, portable heaters, or any other heat source.
It is important that your children fully understand the uniform worn by fire fighters. During the moment children will be scared and may even try to run from a fire fighter that is trying to help. Let them know that they are heroes and your children should do exactly as told.
What to do During a Home Fire
Heat and smoke are actually more dangerous than the flames in a home fire. Inhaling hot air can burn the lungs, and smoke inhalation can cause lung damage or asphyxiation. People are three times more likely to die from asphyxiation than burns in a home fire. During a fire, carbon monoxide is released, a poisonous gas that can also lead to death.
The first course of action in a home fire is to put your plan into action and attempt to escape. Teach your children to crouch and stay low as they exit the building to reduce exposure to heavy smoke and poisonous gases as much as possible.
If you’re exiting the home with a baby, hold the baby securely under your body with one arm so that your body acts as a shield from any falling debris.
If you’re unable to evacuate the home because fire has taken over all available exit routes, stay put. Head for a safe room and seal any cracks around the doors with cloth or anything at hand to reduce the amount of smoke entering the room.
Equip babies’ and kids’ bedrooms with bright flashlights. If you and your baby or toddler are trapped, use the flashlight to alert rescue crews to your location through the windows. Teach kids to do the same in case they become trapped alone.
BabyCenter.com recommends teaching toddlers to lie on the floor next to their beds if trapped in their rooms. If possible, teach your toddler to lie on the floor while shining the flashlight towards the window. This keeps your kids as low to the ground as possible, where the least amount of smoke and gas has collected, while still alerting rescuers to his location. Firefighters are trained to look next to a child’s bed first upon entering a room, ensuring that they will find your child quickl – providing a few more valuable seconds to get your toddler outside safely.
Helping Your Children Cope After a Fire
Home fires are devastating for anybody but can cause long-term emotional problems for children. They will not fully understand why or what exactly has happened. They have lost their home and all their possessions, and in the worst cases, possibly the death of a sibling, parent, or another loved one.
They won’t understand that their possessions and home can be replaced and when they do, they won’t understand why those things can be replaced but their loved ones can’t.
You may want to consult a professional psychologist to help your child navigate his or her grief, but there are also ways that you can help your kids cope as well.
- Involve your child in a disaster recovery plan
- Give your child a chance to share or express feelings
- Validate your child’s concerns
- Answer any questions that they may have
- If your kids can’t express their feelings in words, let them draw a picture
- Establish a new routine as soon as possible
- Give as many hugs and as much affection as they need
- Praise your child’s positive behaviors
- Keep your child informed by sharing details about upcoming changes – but not enough to create more fear or insecurity
The best way to keep your kids safe is to prevent home fires from happening in the first place. Even if it seems like you’re being overly cautious, every precautionary step you take could be the one that saves your child’s life. No precaution is too insignificant when it comes to fire safety.