October is Fire Prevention Month and a time of year when you will often find area fire houses holding open houses and/or making appearances to teach the public about fire safety. Take advantage of these opportunities and use them to educate not just your children, but yourselves as well, about fire safety and fire prevention.
This is a good time to hold a family meeting and discuss "what if". Press the smoke alarm button so your children know what the sound means. Discuss several ways to get out of the house from every room in the house. Decide upon a meeting place outside and away from the house. Find pictures of firemen in full fire-fighting gear to show to your children so they know what they will look like. Children have been known to hide from firefighters out of fear that they were some sort of monster. Familiarizing them with firefighters, lets them know what to expect. Make sure they know NOT to come get you or to return to the inside of the home once they are out. We have told our kids they can yell to us, but only as they are leaving or they are safely outside. Teach them to test for hot doors and to crawl low to the ground. Show them how to "stop, drop, and roll" if their clothes do catch fire. Then to enforce what you have all learned and discussed, hold several "fire drills" at various times of the day, including one after they are in bed and asleep (not a great idea on a school night). It may not be fun to wake all the kids for a fire drill, but fires do not care about the time of day and this way you will know if your children can hear the alarm when they are sound asleep.
Also, discuss what may seem improbable. You do not have to dwell on it, but at least mention a few "worst case" scenarios. We had a sad story in our area couple of years ago where a mother lost her two young sons because they were afraid to leave their burning house. They made their way to a window (2nd story) and opened it, but were afraid to jump out, even though their mother, and other adults, were begging them and there to catch them. I had never thought to tell my kids that they might someday have to jump out a window, but after that day I did. Of course, I made it very clear that it is only ok IF the house is on fire and mom, dad, or another adult were telling them too. We also plan to purchase fire ladders for our second story windows so that jumping is not necessary. Also, be sure to teach them how to call 911, but make sure they know NOT to do it from inside a burning house. Make sure they know their home address to give to a 911 dispatcher, should they be the one who needs to make the call.
Another family activity regarding fire safety is to discuss fire hazards in and around the home and then fix those hazards. Talk about what sorts of things could be dangerour (overloaded sockets, cluttered exit paths, flammable materials improperly stored, etc). Then go on a "scavenger" hunt to find any dangers in your own home. Discuss what can be done to correct those problems and then set about to do so as a family. Sparky the Fire Dog has a great website with lots of family activities and games to teach fire safety as well. Shameless plug: Next week I will be doing a unit study on fire safety on my Homeschool Unit Studies blog, so feel free to check it out. It is appropriate for homeschooled and public/private schooled children as well.
Fires are not something that everyone will experience in their life, so it is easy to "forget" to prepare our families for them. However, in 2007, there were 414,000 residential fires, 2895 deaths and 14,000 injuries related to those fires,(US Fire Administration). I would hate to not be prepared in the case that it did happen to us. (For a complete listing of US Fire Administration reports regarding number of residential fires, deaths, injuries, monetary loss and causes, click here).