When it comes to home disasters, children are most likely to experience a fire. Preparedness and planning saves lives, but many families have never developed or practiced a home fire escape plan. I know what you are thinking: ‘The chances of my house catching on fire are remote. House fires only happen on the news. To other people.’ That’s what I thought, too, until my husband and I stood shivering in the snow while firefighters crashed through our burning home and reporters buzzed around. A brand new lamp shorted out while we were at work, turning our bedroom into an inferno that blasted out our windows. Energized by gulps of air, it proceeded to lick its way toward the roof.
Curious youngsters who play with fire are also cause for serious concern. According to the Red Cross, children under five are twice as likely to die in a house fire compared to the rest of the population. Frightened kids who don’t know how to escape or what to do, panic.
Take steps to help keep your kids safe:
Visit your local fire department. From the time my boys were toddlers, I’ve taken advantage of organized tours to our local fire department. The firefighters show the kids how they change into their protective gear. I could see why firefighters worry about kids hiding from them during a fire. Dressed in their masks and gear in the station, they look alien. But they must look terrifying and monstrous while fearlessly marching through dark smoke and flames searching for scared children and pets. To book a tour at The City of Caglary Fire Department, visit calgary.ca/CSPS/Fire/Pages/Fire-stations/Fire-Station-Tours.aspx. Encourage other families to join you.
Create and practice an escape plan. When my son was in second grade, the teacher assigned the kids to come up with a fire escape plan. Together, we drew a plan of our house. Then we walked through it to come up with two ways out of the house in the event of a fire. We ran a drill, crawling through the house to get to the exits, and designated a family meet-up spot. This was a valuable exercise to see how quickly we could get out and if there were any flaws in our design.
Got a two-storey home? “Get a ladder,” says Nicole Feltz, a Family Insurance agent. “It will allow the family and kids to escape if you can’t get down the stairs.” Store the ladder under an upstairs bed.
Test your smoke alarms annually. Choose a holiday, anniversary, or birthday to make it easier to remember. We tested our smoke alarms while practicing our escape plan. The National Fire Protection Association says that nearly half of fire deaths are prevented simply by having working smoke alarms.
Create a home inventory. Even if no one dies or is injured, going through a fire is traumatic. Walking through the soggy, burned out shell of our home, with the toxic smell of melted plastic searing our nostrils, was surreal. The days that followed were mind-numbing as we tediously inventoried the sooty remains that mapped our lives. Take inventory of all of your possessions before disaster strikes. Feltz suggests the Dream Vault app to take pictures of the items in your home. File or scan copies of receipts for large ticket items. “If you update a deck, fence, or kitchen, take a picture even of the receipt,” advises Feltz.
Purchase a fire-proof safe. My husband and I received a fire-proof safe soon after we were married as a Christmas gift. The box seemed like an odd gift to me at the time. But for less than $50, this safe where we store our important documents proved priceless, saving us a few headaches.
In the end, we were lucky. My husband and I had each other, reliable insurance, and many friends offering support. The house was rebuilt, our lives were restored, and things were replaced.
Now that we are parents, our two little ‘risk factors’ have raised the stakes. I’m not gambling on their safety. To me, that would be like playing with fire - a fire I’m not sure I’d ever recover from.
Freelance journalist Christa and her husband are the parents of two active boys and a pair of playful mutts. Christa’s latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.
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