Two Indianapolis-area fires discovered by children in the past two weeks highlight the need to communicate fire safety with the youngest residents of the state.
A fire in Zionsville in early January was discovered by a four-year-old who woke his parents when he smelled smoke. Just this week, Cub Scouts were learning about fire safety at St. Jude Catholic School on Indy’s south side when a kindergartner noticed smoke and alerted those nearby. In both instances, everyone was able to safely evacuate.
Programs like the Indianapolis Fire Department’s Survive Alive teach children about fire safety, but it’s also critical to have a family discussion at home.
“Kids as young as two or three years old understand the concept of not hiding in a bed or hiding in a closet,” said Battalion Chief Rita Reith, Director of Media Relations for the Indianapolis Fire Department.
Survive Alive allows children to see firemen in full gear so they won’t be frightened, yet Reith said often children are hiding before the firemen arrive. They may have been playing with something that could have caused a fire, or think that they’ll be in trouble because there is a fire.
“One of the biggest things to teach a very young child is never to hide,” Reith said.
It’s also important for children to always tell an adult when they smell or see smoke and for parents to believe children.
“If you find something, evacuate the house and call 911. That’s not the time to discuss how and why the fire started,” Reith said. “We want people to get out and stay out.” The more quickly the 911 system is activated, the more personal belongings may be saved.
It’s important for families to establish an agreed upon meeting spot outside of the home that everyone can get to in case of an emergency. When children are four or five years old, they can be taught to leave the house and to remember where the family will meet after evacuating.
Turning it into a game can make the drills less frightening. Families can have children find two ways out of every room in the house. Then each member of the family chooses a room and evacuates, going to their meeting space. They should also practice by crawling and going down any stairs on their bottom to avoid smoke.
Reith suggests practicing an evacuation plan annually or biannually. “You can’t just talk about it and never practice doing it,” she said. Exiting the house in the dark won’t be as frightening during a fire if children have practiced.
Having a working smoke detector on every floor and in each bedroom is also important for fire safety.
Reith added that fire safety plans aren’t only for children.
“Seniors think because they don’t have kids at home, they can take care of themselves,” she said. “We have a lot of injuries in ages 55 to 80. They still need a plan.”
She said that seniors often don’t think about fire safety, yet many fires involving seniors are easily prevented. Fire safety is something that never stops regardless of age.
“Having a family evacuation plan, practicing and communication – those are free things you can do and it encourages communication with your kids,” Reith said.