Last time we talked about having a PLAN. Here’s a fire safety plan that’s easy to implement and fun to practice.
I ran an in-home daycare for several years and one of the things we were required to do was run fire drills. The kids loved them. No one was ever afraid or had bad dreams. The children ranged in age from 1 year to 5 years old. You can’t expect a child under the age of 3 to get him/herself out of a burning building so someone must be assigned to any very young children.
1.) The first thing you need to do is talk to your child in an age appropriate way about fire being very hot and getting hurt really bad if they get too close to it.
2.) Next, make paper fire. I did orange and red. The paper fire makes it easier for the kids to visualize where the pretend fire is. I’ll explain later how to use it.
3.) You need to walk through your house with your family stopping in each room and talking about how they would get out of that room if they were stuck in it. Let your kids help brainstorm. It’s important that they are able to go through the process on their own. What if they’re playing alone in their room and a fire blocks them off from you. Let them practice brainstorming ideas for getting out. Talk to the kids about what are exits in your house. Windows, doors, etc. When you are doing this remind them NOT to climb out of the windows or leave the house without telling a grown-up UNLESS there is a fire. Try not to use the word emergency with young kids. It is so over used and they think everything is an emergency. Stick with specific instructions like FIRE.
4.) This next step is really fun for older kids. Make a simple map of your house. If you have older kids in elementary school, let them make the map. Need I mention what a great math lesson? On the map, mark each exit with a bright color so that even children as young as 3 can see where they are. There should be at least two exits from each bedroom or main room in your house. This is a great time to remind your kids that hiding is NOT for FIRE. If there is a fire they MUST get out of the house. It is not okay to hide under the bed or in a closet.
When talking about things with children, remember to be clear and concise. Use DO THIS instead of DON’T DO THAT statements. For example, “Do tell mommy right away if you find a lighter or matches.” Instead of, “Don’t play with matches.” Don’t statements offer no solution to the problem they have. Tell they what to do so that they will know if it happens. Like “Walk!” instead of “Don’t run!”
5.) During your tour, remember to point out the fire/smoke detectors and even push the test buttons on them to let your kids hear what they sound like. You might want to warn really young ones or ones that are sound sensitive that it is really loud and they might want to cover their ears.
5.) After your indoors tour, go outside. Walk around your house showing them the doors and windows for the rooms they just walked through. This is really important for young children. They have a difficult time visualizing those kinds of things. My four year old is often asking from outside just where his room is.
6.) During your tour outside, you should be looking for a meeting place. This spot should be easy like your mailbox or a large tree that they can see from the house. It also needs to be a safe distance from your house so that you don’t have to worry about embers or burning particles landing on anyone. Only have ONE meeting place! If there really is a fire, you need to know right away who has made it out and who hasn’t! There isn’t time to run around your house to several spots checking for people.
It is also really important to remind your children often that they should not try to get their pets or favorite toys out, only themselves. If they see a fire in your house they should yell as loudly as they can WHILE exiting the house to alert everyone else. You might want to make older children like teenagers responsible for checking rooms in their paths on the way out. Only give a child as much responsibility as you honestly believe they can handle. This is not the time for teaching responsibility. Your goal here is to get everyone out of your house safely if there’s a fire.
7.) Back to that paper fire. Show it to your kids and tell them that it’s your pretend fire. Explain how the practice goes.
You will place the paper fire somewhere (taped to a wall or laying on the floor). The first person to see it yells “FIRE! FIRE!” and heads for the nearest exit NOT blocked by the flames. Everyone is to go as is and meet in your meeting spot. Make it really easy and let it get harder as your children get older and more experienced. We actually had to walk our kids through their escapes many times before they understood exactly what they were supposed to do.
Once they get the hang of that, secretly place the flames and then hit the nearest fire/smoke alarm. We have moved up to placing fire in harder spots like blocking off major exits and in multiple spots to make our kids have to really think about the plan.
Our kids also take turns choosing the fire locations and times. It’s a great game and whenever I hit the alarm, all of our kids know what to do and do it immediately.
Keep practicing. Think of it like an Easter egg hunt. Do it over and over and let everyone have a turn. The more comfortable your family is with the drill, the more likely you are to get everyone out safe and sound if it isn’t a drill.