Keeping your kid safe is a full-time job, and this is especially true when it comes to fire safety. As any parent knows, a kid left alone for two seconds can get into a world of trouble, and this goes double when fire is a possibility. Learning the things a firefighter wants you to know about fire safety can help keep your home and especially children free from harm.
Teaching fire safety from a young age is a crucial way to keep your entire family safe from tragedy. Maintaining your home, appliances, and electrical cords is one thing, but keeping your kids away from these dangers is a whole other story. Although most adults wouldn't think twice about electrical outlets or matchbooks, kids can be drawn to dangerous things with disastrous results. And if you have to ask why a child with loads of toys would decide to play with a book of matches instead, then you haven't met many toddlers. They're inexplicable little suckers.
To learn more about fire safety, Romper spoke with two longtime firefighters. William Wren, a firefighter with the New Hartford Fire Department in New York, has dedicated his life to educating others about fire safety. He received the National Volunteer Fire Council's 2017 Fire Prevention and Education Award. In addition, John M. Schlinger has worked as a volunteer firefighter for over 30 years. Both men provided excellent insight into home fire safety and keeping your kids safe.
1. Put Away Matches
If you have any matchbooks in the house, store them well away from the reach of all children. "Keeping matches away from children is vital. They’re experimental. They’ll play with anything," said Wren. Anyone who has been in the company of a kid for more than five minutes will agree with this assessment. Even if the child appears to be totally trustworthy and "mature", they are still very curious and sometimes it can get the best of them.
2. Don't Let Kids Play With Candles
Candles in the home are inviting, relaxing, and potentially dangerous. “Recently we've seen incidents in our area where children were allowed to play with candles and started a fire," said Wren. One incident even resulted in a fatality.
Keeping your candles far from the reach of children, and making sure they don't play with them, is crucial. You can still celebrate parties with birthday candles, of course, but children should never be around any type of open flame unattended, no matter what.
3. Be Careful Of Fireplaces
Few things are more inviting than a warm, roaring fireplace. But it's also crucial to make sure yours is in safe working condition before lighting it up. In fact, Schlinger estimates he's been to over 200 chimney fires in over the years of his service. Getting an annual check from a professional may be easy to put at the bottom of your to-do list, but it is an essential move if you plan on using it, whether you have children or not. Plus, you should make sure your kids are extra-supervised around the hot fire and take extra safety precautions, like investing in a screen.
4. Keep Flammable Items Away From Stoves & Heaters
Keeping anything flammable away from heat sources is a great way to prevent fires from starting in the first place. As Wren noted, storing flammable things at least three feet away from heaters or ovens is wise. It seems obvious, and hopefully your kitchen is already set up this way, but it never hurts to take a few minutes to reassess where all your ingredients + gadgets are placed and move them to a safer spot if necessary.
5. Have A Safe Zone Around The Stove
This is a particularly brilliant rule. As Wren recommends, families can keep a safe zone around stoves when cooking. The stove, as well as a three foot radius around it, is off-limits to little kids when anyone is cooking. This will decrease the fire risk, as well as prevent kids from grabbing at hot pans. It's especially important to be mindful of fire risks in the kitchen, because 50 percent of all fires today are caused by cooking, as Wren further explained.
6. Store Gas Cans & Flammable Materials Safely
Matches and candles aren't the only potential problems. Anything that can cause or accelerate a fire needs to be stored properly, such as gas cans, as Schlinger explained.
7. Create & Enforce A Family Fire Safety Plan
As Wren explained, the whole family needs to be on board with the a fire prevention and safety plan. Does your kid know what the fire alarm means, and how to exit the house in an emergency? Creating and practicing a family evacuation plan, giving your kid two ways to exit the bedroom, and arranging a family meeting spot outside the home is crucial, as Wren further explained. Parents in particular need to be involved in order for the program to be successful.
8. Explain Smoke Inhalation Dangers
Citing recent incidents in which children died from smoke inhalation, Wren cautioned parents to explain the dangers of smoke to their kids.
"The invisible byproducts of smoke can hurt you," said Wren. Holding your breath is not enough, so you need to exit the burning building as soon as possible.
9. Use Extension Cords Carefully
Both Wren and Schlinger specifically mentioned extension cords as a potential fire hazard. Schlinger said that using grounded extension cords, and not overloading any outlets, is a good start. And as Wren said, extension cords need to be Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved, under six feet in length if used inside the house, and never run beneath a rug or door. If you're going to use extension cords in the home, check them frequently to make sure they're in good condition and not frayed.
10. Don't Fear The Firefighters
This next statement came as something of a surprise to me, but it completely makes sense when you think about the world from a kid's point of view. It's important to make sure kids understand firefighters are there to help them. As Schlinger explained, when a firefighter is wearing full gear and a mask, they can kind of look like monsters to little kids. It's crucial for your kid to understand that these good guys are there to help, even if they could look like a monster another world.
11. Check Smoke Alarms When You Remember
OK, it sounds like simple advice at first, but it's pretty brilliant. Whether you check your smoke and CO alarms every time you change the clocks, or on the first of every month, the most important thing is that you check them regularly, as Wren said. The best way to check your smoke alarms on the regular is whatever method is most reliable for your family (maybe set an alarm on your phone?). With a little forethought and preparation, you and your family can maintain a home that's relatively safe from fire.
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