How to Teach Your Kids to SURVIVE a House Fire

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Did you know that in two minutes a house fire can be life threatening and in five an entire home can be engulfed in flames according to FEMA?

October is Fire Prevention Month and a time to make a plan.

House fires occur often and sadly too many children lose their lives.   A house fire can happen quickly, without warning and parents need to educate themselves and their children to the dangers.

This will hit home with every parent.

According to the National Fire Association, “There was a civilian fire death every 208 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 30 minutes in 2011.  Home fires caused 2,520, or 84%, of the civilian fire deaths.”

Build Survival Confidence

Every parent needs to build survival confidence into their children. A business meeting with my friend, Nathan, this week was a reminder of how fragile life is.  In our conversation he shared how his son’s best friend, Joseph Hightower was tragically killed in a house fire in 2003.

I could see the loss in his eyes. He asked  if I knew what real fire looked like.  He proceeded to say, “it’s black” and it was hard to find the 11-year old boy.”

What You Can Do

1.  Talk about fire safety with your kids.  It matters. Knowledge and practice bring survival confidence.

2.  Keep fire extinguishers  in key locations throughout the house like in a kitchen, garage, near fireplaces and other high risk areas. You can’t have too many!

3.  Check rooms for faulty wiring that looks frayed, broken, blackened or overloaded. Faulty wiring in the wall can smolder for days before a house fire breaks out. Check your teen’s room too as mine will overload plugs next  to pillows, bedding and curtains.

4.  Make sure your entire electrical circuit is checked for fuses and short circuits by a licensed professional. Replace all old sockets with new plug points, which could be a potential fire hazard. Periodically check the circuits attached to the water heater, AC and the oven as they consume the maximum amount of power and are highly prone to short circuits.

5.   Make sure smoke detectors are working and that batteries are working properly and the detector itself is not too old.  According to The New York Times, “Consumer’s World; How Long Do Smoke Detector’s Last”  “Federal officials estimate that up to 85 percent of all dwellings in the United States have smoke detectors, but that as many as a third of them may not work.”

What YOUR Kids Need To Know

Curious Kids Set Fires

The U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA recommend the following: Children under five are curious about fire. Often what begins as a natural exploration of the unknown can lead to tragedy.

  • Children age 14 and under make up 10-15% of all fire deaths.
  • Fifty-two percent of all child fire deaths occur to those under age 5. These children are usually unable to escape from a fire independently.
  • At home, children usually play with fire in bedrooms, in closets and under beds. These are “secret” places where there are a lot of things that catch fire easily.
  • Too often, child firesetters are not given proper guidance and supervision by parents and teachers. Consequently, they repeat their firesetting behavior.

Practice Fire Safety in Your Home

  • Supervise young children closely. Do not leave them alone even for short periods of time.
  • Keep matches and lighters in a secured drawer or cabinet.
  • 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.
  • Develop a home fire escape plan, practice it with your children and designate a meeting place outside.
  • 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.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level in your home.
  • Familiarize children with the sound of your smoke alarm.
  • Test the smoke alarm each month and replace the battery at least once a year.
  • Replace the smoke alarm every ten years, or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Other Tips:

1. Teach your teen children to use a fire extinguisher. If they babysit, go through safety precautions about cooking.

2. If your children or teens  sleep through “anything”, teach them to respond to the sound of the smoke alarm. Tell them to NOT tune it out! Consider a “surprise” practice run.

2. Keep a cool head. At the first sign of trouble, have your children call for help.

The good news is that children who learn fire safety tend to react quicker in a situation as described here by this  fast-acting 7 year-old.

Asked your local fire department if they provide fire safety for children. The city of Milwaukee has a program called “Survive Alive House” which teaches children how to escape a fire.


Additional Resources on Children Fire Safety