More than 320 children aged 14 and younger were killed in fires and more than 100,000 were injured in 2011, according to FEMA. Of all children under the age of 19, those under 4 were at the greatest risk and represented 47% of all deaths. The Red Cross offers tips on how to prevent fires in the first place, but if a fire did start in your home, would your children know what to do? Here are lifesaving steps that you can review and practice with your children that will help secure their safety in the event of a fire.
Get Down and Stay Down
Smoke rises, so in the event of a fire, teach your children to position their bodies as low to the ground as possible while still remaining mobile. Of course, children are smaller than adults, but they should still be taught to pay special attention to keeping their heads low. Smoke and the toxins produced by the fire injure more people than do the flames themselves. So, crawling across the floor will help them avoid breathing in the smoke. This is an easy step to practice, and the more familiar they are with the proper technique, the better chance they will have of escaping the fire.
If your children are inside of a room with a closed door, instruct them to feel the door and door handle first before attempting to open it. If the door is hot or smoke is seeping in, warn them not to open the door. Instead, instruct them to use an alternate escape route, such as a window. If the door and door handle are not hot, they should open the door slightly and very slowly. If smoke or flames are visible, the door should be closed immediately and the alternate escape route should be used instead. Just as with practicing the crawl, show your children how to check the door and practice the steps with them.
If they do not see smoke or fire when they open the door, they should begin crawling toward the primary exit. While crawling through the home, show them how to keep one hand on the wall. It will allow them to keep better track of where they are, and will minimize the possibility of disorientation.
Get Out and Stay Out
It sounds obvious, but in situations of heightened emotion it can be difficult to think clearly, especially for young children. If a fire starts in your home, get yourself and your family out immediately. Instruct your children not to return to the home in an effort to secure material possessions, or even pets, regardless of how small and nonthreatening the fire may appear. A home can be completely engulfed in flames in just five minutes, so if they reenter a burning building, chances of survival or avoiding catastrophic burn injuries are greatly diminished. Additionally, the heat and smoke can render them completely debilitated, even if they don’t feel the fire itself is a threat. Once debilitated, they won’t be able to leave the home unaided.
The American Red Cross offers a Home Fire Escape Plan template, and suggests all families complete one together, identify two exits from any location in the home, and practice fire drills monthly. When a fire starts in your home, you have precious little time to act, so knowing what to do ahead of time could literally save the lives of yourself and your children.