No one ever thinks that a house fire will happen to them. Children are usually less prepared than their parents and typically don’t know much about the dangers of a house fire. That’s why it’s so important for parents and guardians to take extra measures to keep children safe. The first step is learning more about fire safety for kids and using that information to put together a thorough fire escape plan. You can never be too careful when it comes to fire safety for your children. Some steps you can take include installing the right fire safety equipment, creating a fire escape plan and teaching your children about fire safety.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA) Residential Building Fire Trends report for 2009-2018, there has been a 4% increase in home fires over the last 10 years.
The national estimate for 2018 was 379,600 residential fires and 2,790 deaths. Cooking was the leading cause of home fires over that span, leading to 192,700 fires in 2018. This is followed by heating, other unintentional or careless behaviors, and electrical malfunctions. With residential fires caused by everyday tasks, these disasters can happen to anyone. That’s why it’s crucial to have a fire escape plan and discuss fire safety with children.
Reducing Home Fire Risks
According to Ready.gov, it takes about two minutes for a small flame to turn into a life-threatening fire and just five minutes for a fire to engulf an entire home. Putting in place fire prevention measures to avoid a home fire altogether is the best fire safety practice. Here are a few recommendations to avoid common household fire hazards to protect your family – especially the little ones.
- Don’t overload electrical outlets, extension cords or wall sockets. You should also avoid connecting extension cords together to plug several appliances into the same outlet.
- Reduce clutter. Think about the kitchen, where dishtowels, sponges, paper towels, and other items can catch fire if placed too close to a hot stove or surface. Keep combustibles at least three feet from the stove burners, and never leave cooking unattended.
- Don’t leave burning candles unattended. A candle can fall for a multitude of reasons and can catch fabrics and floors ablaze. This can also happen if a candle burns down too low, causing its glass container to break and free the flame.
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach. Even responsible children can accidentally light a fire if they get a hold of a lighter or match. It’s best to keep these items out of reach of kids.
- Keep multiple working fire extinguishers in your home. You should always have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or other areas where fire hazards are most common.
- Replace electrical outlets. Faulty electrical outlets can be a source of home fires, too. If plugs seem to be loose or fall out the blades inside may have loosened. Loose blades create excessive heat, which can lead to fires.
- Give your clothes dryer proper maintenance. Cleaning the lint catcher thoroughly with every load is just a start. Over time, lint and other particles can build up in the vent or dryer cabinet and potentially cause fires. Have your dryer cabinet professionally cleaned every two years to reduce fire risks.
- Keep an eye on garage safety. Heated garages pose another threat to your home’s safety. If your garage contains a workshop and a heating appliance there’s a fire risk.
- Only use portable space heaters certified by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). If you must use a portable space heater, make sure it’s a certified appliance and keep any combustible objects and materials at least 3 feet from the appliance. Only use K-1 type kerosene in a kerosene heater and check with your local authorities to make sure it’s legal to use.
- Don’t smoke inside — especially where portable oxygen is used. Portable oxygen is 100% pure oxygen, making it extremely flammable. In fact, it’s explosive and makes fires burn hotter and faster.
- Use proper heat sources and conduct regular maintenance. Wood stoves, oil furnaces and any other heat source should be regularly inspected, cleaned and maintained. This reduces the likelihood of dangerous chimney fires. And, never use a cooking stove as a heat source in the home.
All About Smoke Alarms
Did you know that three out of five home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke detectors or working alarms? Smoke detectors won’t prevent fires, but you’ll know quickly if there’s a smoke or fire hazard. They serve as a first alert, letting your family know there’s imminent danger and providing a few moments warning for you to enact your emergency fire plan.
To reduce the risk of fire dangers, it’s important to install and regularly test smoke detectors. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends testing your smoke detectors at least once a month and changing their batteries at least once a year.
You can buy a smoke detector at your local store. Your local fire department may offer smoke detectors free or at a reduced cost. You can also opt for wireless alarm systems that are interconnected, sounding all the alarms in the home to better notify you of a problem in one area of the home.
Installing a Smoke Detector in Your Home
- Install one on every floor of your home, including the basement.
- Install one outside of every sleeping area.
- Replace smoke alarms after 10 years.
- Test your smoke alarms at least twice annually — some experts advise testing monthly.
- Change the batteries every six months at a minimum.
Create a Home Fire Escape Plan
According to SafeKids.org, 75% of U.S. homes don’t have a fire escape plan that they practice regularly. Creating a fire escape plan and practicing it with your kids is critical to protecting your family’s safety in a fire emergency. Kids as young as age three can typically follow a fire escape plan, according to FEMA.
Remember, every child is different, so base your plans on their abilities. For children younger than three or those not able to adequately follow detailed instructions, you’ll need a more comprehensive escape plan. As you create or change your safety plan, keep these tips from FEMA in mind.
- Keep all exits clear of toys and debris.
- Draw a diagram of your home and plan two escape routes.
- Keep children’s doors closed to slow the time it takes for smoke from hallway fires to enter the room, leaving more time for firefighters to rescue young kids.
- Have a safe meeting place outside the home. It should be far enough away from the structure, but close enough for kids to get there easily.
- Practice your plan at least once a month.
FEMA recommends having two escape routes in every room. In addition to the door, find an alternate escape route, such as a window that leads to a neighboring roof or a window with a collapsible ladder for escaping upstairs. You should also test windows to ensure screens can be removed easily and windows aren’t stuck shut.
If you have an infant or toddler, consider adding an automatic fire sprinkler system to your home. They help detect fires and activate sprinklers, which can help douse flames and give a few extra moments to escape.
What to do During a Home Fire
Try to escape. Heavy smoke and poisonous gases accumulate first near the ceiling. Teach toddlers to crouch low or crawl through rooms and hallways under the smoke to reduce exposure as much as possible.
If you’re navigating your escape route with a baby, hold the infant securely under your body with one arm. This provides a shield for your baby if something should fall on top of you, and also keeps your infant as low as possible to the ground to avoid smoke and gas inhalation.
If not, stay put. If you’re unable to evacuate the home because fire has taken over all available exit routes, stay put. Cover cracks around doors with cloth or tape to keep as much smoke and gas out as possible. Equip babies’ and kids’ bedrooms with bright flashlights. If you and your baby or toddler are trapped, use the flashlight to alert rescue crews to your location through the windows. Teach kids to do the same in case they become trapped alone.
BabyCenter.com recommends teaching toddlers to lie on the floor next to their beds if trapped in their rooms. If possible, teach your toddler to lie on the floor while shining the flashlight towards the window. This keeps your kids as low to the ground as possible, where the least amount of smoke and gas has collected, while still alerting rescuers to his location. Firefighters are trained to look next to a child’s bed first upon entering a room, ensuring that they will find your child quickly – providing a few more valuable seconds to get your toddler outside safely.
Stop, drop and roll. If your kids’ clothing has caught fire and they aren’t able to stop, drop and roll, quench the flames with blankets or towels. If possible, immediately treat the burns with cool water for three to five minutes and cover with a clean, dry cloth until help arrives.
What Not to Do During a Fire
Don’t hide in closets or under the bed. Children may be tempted to hide from the fire in a closet or under the bed. However, this is dangerous because they could become trapped with nowhere to escape. It also makes it more difficult for emergency services to locate children when they enter the property. Teach your children to avoid hiding in enclosed spaces for these reasons. Instead, teach them to lie down on the floor next to their bed unless there is an escape route.
Don’t gather belongings or toys. While children may want to stop to gather belongings or pick out their favorite toy, it’s simply not worth the risk. A child going back to their room could easily become trapped with no way out. This also wastes precious time when every second counts. According to the American Red Cross, you may have only two minutes to escape when a fire occurs, and most people believe they have slightly longer. Children need to be taught that fires spread quickly and they will need to act fast and leave everything behind.
Don’t return to your home or room for any reason. Make it part of your fire escape plan that you shouldn’t return to a room you have just left for any reason. Children must understand they need to move quickly and evacuate the building as soon as possible. Returning to a home before fire service authorities have deemed it safe is a huge risk as you could quickly become trapped inside.
Teaching Kids About Fire Safety
There are a few things that are critically important to teach young kids about fire safety. First and foremost, fire is a tool, not a toy. They should never pick up matches or lighters if found. Instead, tell an adult right away.
Adults should never leave children unattended around any fire hazard, including cooking stoves, candles, portable heaters or any other heat source. Teach toddlers and young kids to stay at least 3 feet away from any common heat source or hazard in your home.
Local Fire Department Resources for Kids Fire Safety
Your local fire department may offer child safety kits, including window decals to alert first responders to the rooms in which your kids may be sleeping. This lets them quickly locate and retrieve your child from a burning building, drastically increasing their chances of survival.
Take a tour of your local fire station to familiarize your kids with firefighters in uniform. Teach them that firefighters are friendly heroes – this prevents them from shying away or even running away from firefighters in hazardous situations.
Most fire departments offer families assistance creating fire safety plans free of charge. Invite your local fire station to your home to help you devise the most efficient escape routes. They will also check your smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, and can even point out fire hazards in your home that you weren’t aware of.
To find a fire department near you, use The National Fire Department Census Database to search by city or address. You’ll find all fire departments registered with the USFA, along with addresses and basic information on each department.
Helping Kids Cope After a Home Fire
Babies are often too young to recall a home fire, but younger kids are cognizant enough that a devastating fire can cause significant emotional problems after the event. Kids must cope with the loss of their familiar home and their most prized possessions, and in the worst cases, possibly the death of a sibling, parent, or another loved one.
Young children have a difficult time fully grasping the concept that things can be replaced, but people cannot. Toddlers may experience fear, confusion and insecurity in the days, weeks and even months after a home fire.
Children may also exhibit other common after-effects of fires and disasters like anxiety, sleep disturbances, tantrums and unexplained pains.
Even if your child wasn’t present when the fire occurred, sudden uprooting of the living environment and the loss of favorite blankets or stuffed animals can cause confusion and distress. You may want to consult a professional psychologist to help your child navigate his grief, but there are ways you can help your kids cope as well. Start by getting your kids involved after the fact with these tips.
- Involve them in a disaster recovery plan
- Create a safe, open space for them to express feelings
- Validate their concerns
- Answer all questions
- If your kids can’t express their feelings in words, let them draw a picture
- Establish a new routine as soon as possible
- Provide ample hugs and affection, especially physical affection
- Praise positive behaviors
- Keep your child informed by sharing details about upcoming changes – but not enough to create more fear or insecurity
House fires can have devastating physical and emotional consequences, and the effects on young kids can be especially difficult to overcome in the aftermath.
The best way to keep your children safe is to take steps to prevent home fires happening in the first place. It may feel like you’re being overly cautious. However, when it comes to fire safety for children, every precautionary step you take could end up saving your child’s life. No precaution is too much when it comes to fire safety for kids.
Getting your children involved by teaching them about fire safety and practicing a fire escape plan can prepare them if something should happen. With a solid fire escape plan in place, you can rest a little easier knowing there are clear steps to take should a home fire occur.