I opened Facebook Messenger to find a message from my friend. Her house was on fire, and she needed help. We dropped everything and ran.
As we watched their house burn and the firefighters fight the fire, the memory of my recent class on mental health and disasters and how I had felt I needed to prepare my family for a house fire returned front and center.
House fires are the most common disaster that The American Red Cross deals with.
I had already searched Amazon for a ladder to get out of the house from the second floor and put it into my cart. That had been the extent of my preparation. As soon as we got home, I was ordering that ladder.
Fires are nothing to mess around with. The downstairs of my friend’s home, except for the garage, was largely undamaged by fire, though it was heavily damaged by smoke, most damage was found upstairs. In our house, my children’s bedrooms are upstairs. The last thing I would ever want is for them to be stuck upstairs not having a way to get out.
Two days later, early in the morning, an ember caught fire in the house, and again, the house started burning. Everything they thought they would be able to recover was now a total loss. Everyone was safe, but it was a tragedy nonetheless.
This is your reminder to check your fire alarms to make sure they are working and then talk to your family to make sure they are ready.
We all need to sit our children down and discuss house fires. This isn’t bonfire safety which we have addressed regularly with our kids. In school, I learned all about fire safety, but it appears after talking with my children, this is not an area that has been addressed in school for them.
As parents, what should we do?
Here’s a checklist of things we need to prepare our children with.
- Have you taught them to stop, drop, and roll? My children had never heard of this, and it took thorough explaining to help my daughter understand this is what she needed to do, running would make things worse.
- Do your kids know to stay low to the ground and cover their mouths with a towel if available while they are getting out of the house?
- Have you taught them that water will not put out a grease fire? Smother it or put flour on it?
- Do they know where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it? My children had no idea we had one or how to use it.
- Do you have a central place where your family knows to gather in case you have to exit the house unexpectedly and from different areas? My children thought we should meet at the front door. So we discussed how that would not be a safe place to meet in the case of a fire and found a better location.
- Do your children know they are not to stay inside looking for the beloved cat, dog, or toy? If the toy is there at hand, they may bring it with them. But they need to get out immediately. There were tears in my kids’ eyes as we addressed this one. How could they leave their precious dogs behind?
- Do your children know what to do if you are not home? Phone numbers and which neighbors to trust?
- Do you have a ladder to get out of the second story of your home, and do your children know how to use it?
- Then, physically practice these things. This physically practicing of these things was addressed in my disaster class, and it really struck home for me after talking to my friend about her fire. We need to physically practice what to do in an emergency and practice it often. In an emergency, routine takes over because your brain has a hard time thinking and processing things. Things that you would normally do, you do without thinking.
My friend’s house was on fire, but she went around turning off the TV, turning off the lights before exiting the house. “Because clearly, that’s what’s important at a time like that!” (Please note the sarcasm, and these were her words.) But these are routines that she would normally do when leaving the house. In an emergency, our brain shuts down.
These things should be practiced so they are automatic.
This can be a traumatic subject for our kids. Discussion of this topic should be made with clarity and honesty but with love and reassurance. Reassure them there are always “helpers” as Mr. Rogers says. Should they ever find themselves in this situation, there will be helpers to help them every step of the way.
Let’s have these conversations with our kids so that should we or they ever need these skills, they are there and ready to use.