A discussion of what to teach younger children about the proper response to smelling smoke
Every year fire and smoke inhalation claims approximately 4000 lives, and injures another 20000 people. The two groups most at risk for this are seniors over 70 years old and children under 5 years of age. In order to make your own children safer it is vital that you talk to them about what the proper response to fire and smoke should be.
Talking to your children about fire should include more than just recognizing fire and smoke. It should also include evacuation from the house, and from other buildings. It should mention how to check for a hot door, and that in case of an emergency, the firefighters are to be obeyed.
But the first thing to discuss is how to tell when there is a fire. Fires produce three things that your child can detect: scent, in the form of smoke; heat; and sound. Explain to your child that anytime she hears something that sounds like crackling, or feels heat coming from something that shouldn’t be giving it off, or smells smoke she is to find the nearest adult and tell them what she’s noticed. When you give this instruction to your child you also have to make sure that, no matter how annoying the child’s timing may be in the future, you always praise the child for her action, and explain why any specific fire is not a problem. If your child is in a position where she cannot tell an adult, make sure she knows to exit the house (Or other area where she had detected a fire.) immediately. Make sure the child understands she is not to run haphazardly from the fire, but simply get to a safe area, and wait for adults to tell her what to do.
Another thing that you should discuss with your child about fire is to explain that while her nose is good at smelling smoke, you have several smoke detectors in the house. Smoke detectors are always sniffing the air in around them, and never sleep. So if she hears a fire alarm going off (Take the time, now to press the alarm test button on the alarm to show her what the smoke alarm sounds like.) she is to treat it just like any other indication of a fire: tell the adults around her about the fire, and if she can’t do that, evacuate the house.
When talking about evacuating the house, discuss with her how she is to leave the house in case of a fire. Describe how to check a door before opening it: place the back of her hand on the door, and if the door is hot, she is to assume there’s a fire on the other side. Show her an alternate route to leave the house if she can’t get out of her bedroom. Explain that no matter how much she cares about her toys, pets, or other things; during a fire her only responsibility is to get herself out safely after trying to tell an adult about the fire. Show her where the family will meet after they’ve gotten out of the house. Above all, practice getting out of the house at least once a year. Fire departments have an acronym for that: EDITH – Exit Drills in the Home. Having exit drills does not mean that you and your family won’t be scared during a fire, but it does mean that you will all know what to do, you won’t have to try to determine how to respond during the crisis.
Once anyone is out of the house, make sure your child knows that no one is to go back into the house until the firefighters say it is okay. Do not go back in for any possessions. Do not go back in for any pets. Once out of the house, stay out.
After discussing getting out of the house, make sure your child knows what to tell the firefighters when they arrive at the scene: Tell them whether everyone made it out of the house. After that they may have questions about where the fire started, or what was smelled, heard or felt. However, the first priority should always be saving lives.
Finally talk to your children about what the common causes of fires in the home are. The most common cause is some kind of cooking fire. Often those are caused by food being left unattended. Let your children know that leaving the kitchen while food is cooking is a bad idea, and when they call you on it, take it in good cheer. After cooking fires, the next most common cause of home fires is some kind of smoking related incident: smoking in bed, improperly extinguished smoking materials, or worst of all, children playing with smoking materials. Explain to your children that anything that burns is something that they are not to play with. They are not toys, and should never be touched, or handled without an adult’s permission and supervision.
By going over these safety techniques you will improve the chances of keeping your children off next years list of statistics for fire related deaths or injuries.