The Basics of Fire Safety
Every year, about 500 children under the age of 14 are victims of fires. Children, especially those ages 5 and younger, are twice as likely to die in home fires as older kids and adults because they are less likely to react appropriately during a fire. They may hide in closets or under beds. When firefighters burst upon the scene, a very young child is likely to be terrified by their massive outfits and equipment.
But your kids know enough not to play with fire, right? Maybe not. Fire is an enticing and easy-to-create object of attraction for many children, making child-play fires a leading cause of fire-related death and injuries in homes. That's why it's important to talk to your kids about the dangers of playing with fire.
Fire prevention tips
The best way to protect your children from fire is to prevent fires, and if you can’t prevent them, make sure everyone in your family has the resources to get early warning and easy escape. Here are the basics:
- Use a smoke alarm. Your (and your children’s) chance of dying in a residential fire is cut in half when you have a working smoke alarm. Have a smoke alarm on each floor, especially near bedrooms. Change the batteries every six months or when the smoke alarms start to "beep,” indicating batteries are low.
- Extinguish it. Have portable fire extinguishers available in the kitchen, basement and near the bedrooms. Check them every year to make sure they haven’t expired; make sure everyone knows how and when to use them.
- Plan your escape. Decide the best way out (and have an alternate) from bedrooms, how to escape from upper stories (storable chain "ladders" are available that hook onto windowsills), and where you will meet once outside. Make sure windows open and that furniture doesn't block potential exits.
- Have a fire drill. It's a good idea to have a home fire drill. Because half of all home fires occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., you may want to plan a middle-of-the-night drill sometime.
- Teach “stop, drop and roll.” While your child’s natural instinct is to run if his clothes catch fire, teach him that he should stop moving, drop to the ground and roll out the flames.
- Watch children at play. Child-play fires are a leading cause of fire-related death and injuries in homes. And it's not just the young kids who are attracted to flames. About 38 percent of kids aged 9 to 14 say they have played with fire at some time. Most of the fires were started by matches or lighters. Put these items well out of reach, and let young children know that if they find matches or a lighter, they should bring them to you. Be sure to praise them when they do.
- Safely indulge their curiosity. A young kid's natural curiosity is aroused by fire, so demonstrate fire is a tool, not a toy. Show how a stove uses fire to cook food or how the fireplace helps keep the family warm. Young children should never be allowed around stoves or toasters unsupervised. Explain the dangers of leaving anything flammable, such as a paper napkin, near a heating element. Make sure they know to never climb up on or near the stove.
- Design your home for safety. Don't place rugs over electrical cords. Keep an eye out for frayed cords and replace them. Any kerosene or gasoline should be stored in the garage or outside the residence.
- Teach them about electricity. Playing with an electrical cord can make it fray and allow electric current to spark onto carpets or curtains. Explain that electrical cords and sockets can cause fires and should never be played with.
- Avoid dangerous fumes. Never burn charcoal or use portable camping heaters, lanterns or stoves inside homes, tents, campers or vehicles. They can emit toxic fumes that may go unnoticed, especially when people are sleeping.
- Be careful with kerosene heaters. Follow the manufacturer's directions for refilling and lighting the heater. Have adequate ventilation, and never leave a heater unattended. Make sure your heater has an emergency shut-off switch that will extinguish the flames if the heater is bumped or tipped over.
- Cut out the candles. Many older children like to have candles in their rooms, but ask them to enjoy decorative, scented candles without lighting them. Tell them lit incense also isn’t permitted in bedrooms.
- Watch where you put it. A wood-burning stove or hot radiator can dry those wet socks fast — and start a fire in the process; so can hanging something over a lampshade. Let your kids know they should never place anything close to a flame or heating element.
- Don't disconnect. A shrieking smoke alarm can be annoying when your child is frying an egg, but removing the battery is a poor way to deal with the situation. Your child needs to know to air out the room rather than pull out the battery.
- No smoking! Cigarettes are a major contributor to residential fires. If you do smoke in your home, please be sure to thoroughly extinguish your cigarette and keep all smoking materials far away from your children.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: September 2012