Kids don’t always know home fire dangers and risks, so it’s important for parents to take precautionary measures to keep everyone safe. Start by installing the right fire safety equipment, creating an escape plan and talking to your kids about fire safety.
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 its 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 reduced cost. You can also opt for wireless alarm systems that are interconnected, sounding all the alarms in the home for better notification of a problem in one area of the home.
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 electric 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 a portable space heater make sure it’s a certified appliance and keep any combustible objects and materials at least three 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 percent pure oxygen, making it extremely flammable – in fact, it’s explosive and makes fire 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.
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.
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.
When you practice fire escape plans, do it in the dark or with your eyes closed. Have kids do the same to ensure they can navigate the way out safely and quickly. Use multiple scenarios and practice rescuing infants via multiple methods.
Teach your kids the Stop, Drop and Roll technique – Stop moving, lie down and roll if clothing catches fire. They should also learn to crawl through rooms and hallways to avoid smoke inhalation.
Lastly, kids should be taught to touch a door before opening it. If the door is hot, don’t open it. And, never re-enter once you’ve escaped – for any reason.
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 three 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.
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 kids safe is to prevent home fires from happening in the first place. Even if it seems like you’re being overly cautious, every precautionary step you take could be the one that saves your child’s life. No precaution is too insignificant when it comes to fire safety.
By teaching your kids about fire safety, formulating and practicing a fire escape plan, following fire prevention practices and preparing your children for the proper actions during a fire, you’re doing everything you can to keep them safe from a home fire.
Dashia researches and writes on all things home automation and security. She focuses on the latest news, products, and providers to share only the best with you.