Parent Magazine St. Johns October 2019 - Page 24

Are You Playing with Fire? Plan ahead to protect your family should disaster strike. W By Christa Melnyk Hines hen it comes to home disasters, children are most likely to experience a fire. Preparedness and planning saves lives, but nearly three- quarters of Americans 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. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires claim as many as 400,000 homes in the U.S. each year. Although we were displaced from our home for several months, we counted our blessings that no one was hurt or died. On average, seven people die each day in house fires across the nation. Curious youngsters who play with fire are also cause for serious concern. According to the American 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. 24 | S T. J O H N S parent M A G A Z I N E Take steps to help keep your kids safe. Visit the 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. If you and your family have never been on one of these tours, call your local fire department to schedule one. Encourage other families to join you. You don’t have to be with a school or organization and the tours are free. 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 designating 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-story home? “Get a ladder,” says Nicole Feltz, an American Family Insurance agent. “It will allow the family and kids to escape if you can’t get down the stairs.” Store the ladders under upstairs beds.