October is Fire Prevention Month and young students all around the country will be learning about the importance of fire safety and fire prevention. Whether you have your own classroom or are teaching your children at home, it is important to teach your children how to prevent fires and what to do if a fire breaks out unexpectedly. It’s a good time to check out fire safety websites and to engage preschoolers in fire safety activities that get them learning about the dangers of fire. Often if we practice beforehand in a calm state, children are better equipped to handle emergency situations.
Did you know…
- You have no more than 3 minutes to escape a burning building?
- More people die from smoke inhalation than from fire itself?
- Fire creates so much smoke that a room turns pitch black in minutes?
- The toxic fumes created by a fire can kill you within a few breaths?
- Heat produced by a fire can exceed temperatures of more than 1000 degrees F, yet temperatures of more than 150 degrees F can cause your body to shut down?
According to a recent study done by the NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association), children playing with lighters or matches leads to 49,300 reported fires every year, forty-three percent of which were started by a child under the age of 6.
More than half of child fire deaths are among children age 4 or younger – making them an important audience for fire prevention and education. If you’ve ever visited a preschool classroom to discuss fire safety or have met with older toddlers during community outreach activities, you know they can be a tough crowd to reach.
Providing a Safe Environment
Young children need to have a safe environment at home, why?
- Because they are too young to take care of their own safety;
- Because they cannot understand danger, and;
- Because a parent just telling them about danger, while important, does not always keep them safe.
Keeping young children safe is an adult’s responsibility, so as educators we want to see parents and caregivers staying with their preschoolers for their fire safety lessons. While most fire and life safety education programs are geared toward school age children, it’s children under the age of five who have a much higher risk of dying in a residential fire compared to children in other age groups.
Danger from a Child’s Perspective
Most injuries to young children happen at home, so as parents it is very important to make your home as safe as possible. Understand the hazards that exist around you.
- Young children cannot understand danger. They cannot understand that they might get hurt or even killed even when you have told them about the danger.
- Young children can understand “Stop” or “No”, but they cannot understand “Do not run on the street because you will get hit by a car”. They are too busy concentrating on running without falling over, and anyway, they did not get hit by a car the last time they ran on the street.
- Toddlers may understand “No”, but they may not have learned to obey it yet.
- Young children only look at where they are going (chasing a ball, running to a friend) – they have ‘tunnel vision’.
- They cannot judge whether something, such as a car, is moving or how fast it is moving.
- It is a fact that young children aren’t as capable of exiting a home on their own or understanding the dangers of fire risks.
- Parents must take extra precautions to reduce fire risk in the home, including installing fire safety equipment and preparing comprehensive safety and evacuation plans to ensure children escape safely. Children between the ages of 3-5 generally lack the mental faculties to understand the need and the means of quickly escaping from a burning structure. Even in their own homes, very young children lack an understanding of how to escape.
Teaching Fire Prevention and Safety to Preschoolers
As adults, getting out of a house on fire comes as second nature. But children respond in just the opposite way. To escape fire, they often try to hide under a bed, in a closet, or behind furniture. They even hide from the firefighters trying to save them. When you look at things from a child’s point of view, it’s easier to understand their actions. First, most home fires start at night when everyone is sleeping. When awakened, kids are groggy and confused. Smoke fogs their vision, which is made even worse by coughing and watering eyes. Plus, fire is loud, blindingly bright, swift-moving, and frightening.
When firefighters get into a home, they’re in full protective gear, including face masks and oxygen tanks. They may have an ax or fire hose. Firefighters breathing into masks sound frightening, not all that different from Darth Vadar of the movie “Star Wars.”
To further complicate matters, a young child’s logical thinking hasn’t matured. To them, out of sight means out of harm’s reach. They falsely believe that not seeing fire means it can’t find them. Those factors combine to put children at greater risk of dying in a house fire than an adult.
- When a house fire starts, children can become very afraid and confused. They may not understand what is happening or how they should react.
- With as little as two minutes to escape unharmed, they must know how to crawl low to the ground with their mouths covered if there is smoke and to feel for a hot door before exiting a room.
- Teach children never to hide from firefighters.
- Teach children to NEVER return to a burning building.
- Children’s sleepwear is required to be flame-resistant or snug fitting. Only allow your children to sleep in pajamas, not “day wear,” such as T-shirts or sweatpants.
- Teach children to STOP, DROP, COVER THEIR FACE and ROLL if their clothing catches on fire.
The first step in any fire prevention plan is to ensure all fire alarms, sprinkler systems and extinguishers are fully operational. Follow this with a detailed escape route from every room in your home or facility. Use a piece of graph paper and draw the outline of your home marking each room, window, door and stairwell. Use arrows to make exit points. Practice your escape routes monthly to ensure everyone knows exactly what to do should a fire occur.
It is equally important to teach children fire safety. Some simple tips include:
- Teaching them to alert an adult if they see smoke or fire
- Showing them the safe spot (where to go) once they are outside a burning building
- Borrowing books from the library that explain fire safety
- Visiting your local fire station.
Teaching fire safety to young children is important, so take time this Fire Prevention Month to talk to your child about fire. It could save his or her life!
For more resources, visit Fire Safe Kids, playsafe!besafe!, or the National Fire Protection Association.