Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fire safety

It's national fire prevention week.  I had originally planned to do a week long series on it, but then my husband talked me into picking up some overtime, so I am working 54 hours this week.  So no week long series.

Instead, we'll hit the highlights.

According to FEMA, 3,500 people die a year in house fires, and over 18,000 are injured.  Surviving is not a matter of luck; it's a matter of planning.

To start with, the most important factor in surviving a house fire are working smoke detectors.  You can buy them pretty cheaply at most stores, or if you truly can't afford one, contact your local fire department. They often have programs to get working smoke detectors into homes.  After that, check the batteries twice a year.  In order to remember, do it on the days we change the clocks.  A good rule of thumb is to have one smoke detector in each bedroom, and at least one more on each floor.  Also, have you considered checking with family members and friends that your children spend the night with?  Yes, this may be paranoid, and yes, your children's friend's parents might think you're a little weird, but consider this: a few years ago, there was a house fire in our district.  It burned down the entire house.  The pre-teen girl that lived there was having a slumber party, and they lit a candle on the kitchen table before falling asleep.  Something fell on the candle, it tipped over and ignited the papers on the table.
There was only one smoke detector in the house. It did not have  a working battery.  The occupants were alerted by a passerbyer on his way to an early morning job, and everyone got out with only a little smoke inhalation.  The house burned to the ground.  Had they had working smoke detectors, they would have gone off as soon as the candle ignited the papers.  I thought about the girls staying over--how would their parents have felt if they had all been injured or died while at a friend's house, because no one thought to make sure the smoke detectors were working?

Speaking of candles, firefighters in general are not big fans.  For starters, they cause an awful lot of house fires--around 15,600 a year.  The majority are lit too close to combustible material, and are not properly encased.  If you must light a candle, be sure it is not anywhere near something that can burn, such as paper, wood, or plastic.  Carefully supervise children around it, and only use candles that are in sturdy metal, ceramic or glass containers, and cannot be easily knocked over.

Do you have an exit plan?  Do you know how you're going to get out of the house, and have you set a designated location outside where your family is to meet?  Do your children know to stay low to the floor, where the air is the best, and to never, ever open a hot door?  Plan escape routes from every room in your home, and practice them with your children.
Exit plans are not just for the kids, either.  If you have more than one small child, have you and your spouse discussed who is getting whom?  You don't want to be deciding at 2 a.m. when your house is on fire, talk about it now.  For instance, I only have one child now, so it isn't an issue.  But when there are two, and my husband is home, we know that I will get the new baby and he will go get Joshua.  Plan now who is getting which child, so there is no confusion and someone gets left inside.

Do you keep a cell phone by your bed?  We do, because in the case of a fire, I can grab the cell phone on my way out.  Don't ever go back inside or veer out of your escape route for something, but it is wise to keep things next to your bed in case of an emergency.  For us, that is my contacts, since I'm legally blind without them, and our cell phone.  We also have a spare set of car keys hidden outside.  If your house burns down with your car keys in it, what are you going to do?

Teach your children that fire is a tool, not a toy.  Develop and enforce whatever guidelines are appropriate for your family.  For ours, it is that our children are never, ever to play with the stove or fire.  They are not to touch it, ever, until they are teenagers, and then we can discuss it again.  These may be stricter guidelines than what your family wants or needs, so decide for yourselves what rules you are going to have concerning fire, and make sure your children know them.

Fires are not always preventable.  But they are survivable, with some planning and discussion with your children.  Talk to your kids, practice with your kids, and be safe this winter season.