By Kurt Kasson, Chief Building Official, City of Allen, BOAT Board of Directors
This is the time of year when we sometimes need a fire to help keep our houses warm. This makes it the perfect time for children to learn fire safety do’s and don’ts. We must keep them and everyone around them safe.
Along with teaching children to respect fire, it’s important to teach them where the fire extinguisher is located and how to use it properly.
Every day Americans experience the tragedy of fire. Each year more than 5,000 Americans die in fires and more than 25,000 are injured. Figures show that each year about 450 people are killed and $300 million in property is destroyed in fires attributed to children playing with fire.
Below is data is from the United States Fire Administration – Federal Emergency Management Agency. Help us improve these numbers!
Of Every… 100 people in the U.S. 16 are children
Of Every… 100 people who die in fires in the U.S. 23 are children
Of Every… 100 children who die in fires in the U.S. 24 are killed because of children playing with fire
Of Every… 100 people who die in child-set fires in the U.S. 85 are children
Of Every… 10 fires fire experts say that 8 are preventable
Your local fire department encourages parents to teach children at an early age about the dangers of fire in an effort to prevent child injuries, fire deaths, and fire setting behavior in the future. You can use the following fire safety and prevention information to lead discussions.
Control kids’ access to fire:
- Keep all matches and lighters out of the hands of children. If possible, keep these sources of fire in locked drawers. Consider buying only “child-proof” lighters—but be aware that no product is completely child-proof.
- Children as young as two years old can strike matches and start fires.
- Never leave children unattended near operating stoves or burning candles, even for a short time.
- Teach children not to pick up matches or lighters they may find. Instead, they should tell an adult immediately.
Fire safety at home:
- Smoke detectors should be installed on every floor of the home, especially near sleeping areas.
- Smoke detectors should be kept clean of dust by regularly vacuuming over and around them.
- Replace batteries in smoke detectors at least once a year. And replace the entire unit after ten years of service, or as the manufacturer recommends.
- Families should plan and practice two escape routes from each room of their home.
- Regularly inspect the home for fire hazards.
- If there are adults in the home who smoke, they should use heavy safety ashtrays—and discard ashes and butts in metal, sealed containers or the toilet.
- If there is a fireplace in the home, the entire opening should be covered by a heavy safety screen. The chimney should be professionally inspected and cleaned annually.
Kids may be experimenting with fire if you notice:
- Evidence of fire play, such as burnt matches, clothes, paper, toys, etc., or if you smell smoke in hair or clothes.
- Inappropriate interest in firefighters and/or fire trucks, such as frequent, improper calls to the fire department or 9-1-1.
- Child asks or tries to light cigarettes or candles for you or other adults.
- Matches or lighters in their pockets or rooms.
Turn kids’ interest into safe outcomes:
- Talk to your child or students in a calm, assured manner about fire safety.
- Consider visiting a fire station if children are very interested in firefighting and/or fire trucks. Have the firefighter talk about his/her job and the dangers of fire.
- For parents: create opportunities for learning about fire safety at home. For example, when you cook, let your child get the pot holder for you; when you use the fireplace, let your child bring you the wood or tools; and if you use candles, let the child check to make sure the candle holder fits snugly.
What to do if you suspect your student/child is playing with fire:
- Talk to the child about his or her actions. Explain again that fire is a tool for use only by adults, and that it is very dangerous for children.
- Your local fire department should have a Fire Setters Program for children who are inappropriately interested in fire or who have set fires. Parents and/or teachers are encouraged to call and make an appointment to visit with the Fire Setter Program Officer.
Curious Kids Set Fires
Children under five are curious about fire. Often what begins as a natural exploration of the unknown can lead to tragedy.
- Children of all ages set over 100,000 fires annually. Approximately 25,000 of those fires are set in homes.
- Children make up between 20% – 25% of all fire deaths.
- Over 30% of the fires that kill children are set by children playing with fire.
- At home, children usually play with fire in bedrooms, in closets, and under beds. These are “secret” places where there are a lot of things that catch fire easily.
- Too often, child fire setters are not given proper guidance and supervision by parents and teachers. Consequently, they repeat their fire setting behavior.
Practice Fire Safety in Your Home
- Supervise young children closely. Do not leave them alone even for short periods of time.
- Keep matches and lighters in a secured drawer or cabinet.
- Have your children tell you when they find matches and lighters.
- Check under beds and in closets for burned matches or paper. This would indicate that your child is playing with fire.
- Develop a home fire escape plan, practice it with your children and designate a meeting place outside.
- Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
- Teach children the nature of fire. It is FAST, HOT, DARK, and DEADLY!
- Teach children not to hide from firefighters, but to get out quickly and call for help from another location.
- Show children how to crawl low on the floor, below the smoke, to get out of the house, and stay out in the case of fire.
- Demonstrate how to stop, drop to the ground, and roll if their clothes catch fire.
- Install smoke alarms on every level in your home.
- Familiarize children with the sound of your smoke alarm.
- Test the smoke alarm each month and replace the battery at least once a year.
- Replace the smoke alarm every ten years, or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.