When it comes to keeping your loved ones safe during a home fire, there are a few steps, stats and fire safety tips that can help you create a safety plan for the whole family.
Unfortunately, home fires are one of the most commonly reported disasters in the U.S. with 350,000 to 400,000 fires starting each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The good news, though, is that many of these are preventable if you have a plan in place. A great way to start is by getting the entire family involved with kid-friendly exercises, games and rhymes that help keep everyone calm and prepared in case of an emergency.
Learn how and when most fires start
Did you know that home fires are most likely to occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. when a family is home and preparing for dinner? The winter months of December, January and February are also when most fires occur, due to the increased risk from heating systems.
When learning about fire safety, many people are curious to know how fires start in the first place. Here are the top known causes in the United States:
- 46% – Cooking-related accidents that might be caused by leaving items unattended, bad grease, something accidentally touching a burner or putting a fire hazard in the microwave.
- 16% – Heating equipment like unattended space heaters, fireplaces and candle warmers.
- 9% – Electrical shorts and lighting equipment from faulty wiring, playing with electrical outlets and having too many appliances plugged into one outlet.
- 8% – Intentional fires started by arson.
- 5% – Smoking and smoking materials like improperly extinguished cigarettes.
You can go over these statistics with your children, emphasizing that many of these causes are accidental and/or preventable. Help them begin learning about fire safety by memorizing the three P’s: Prevent, Plan, and Practice.
Prevent: create a fire prevention checklist and practice daily fire safety tips
A thorough prevention checklist can help the whole family make sure there are no hazards lurking in your home. Start your own checklist by making sure your safety devices are properly installed and regularly tested.
Check all of your smoke alarms
According to the NFPA, 65% of home fires occur in the 10% of homes that do not have working smoke alarms. To make sure yours are functioning correctly, test them and change the batteries every six months, replacing the device after 10 years. There should be at least one smoke alarm on each floor of your house. The best areas to put them are in or near bedrooms, where they can wake someone up in case of a fire.
Tip: To remember to test smoke alarms, set an alarm clock on your phone for daylight savings time. You’ll remember to change the clocks and test your fire prevention system!
Test your carbon monoxide alarms
You can test your carbon monoxide alarms at the same time as your smoke alarms. Remember to replace the devices every 10 years.
Keep a fire extinguisher accessible
Teach everyone in the family how to use it and store it in or near your kitchen, where most home fires start. Replace your fire extinguisher every 12 years.
After you’ve created a fire prevention checklist with your kids, add the following “do’s” and “don’ts” to teach them how to stay safe and use the photo hunt below to practice how to prevent fires.
- Clean out the dryer lint each time you do the laundry, checking external ducts monthly for lint build up.
- Use power strips to avoid over-plugging electrical outlets and causing a short.
- Use the auto shut-off for appliances such as coffee pots, if available.
- Lock stove knobs or remove them completely if you have little ones or curious pets that might be tempted to play with them.
- Keep matches, lighters, and candles out of the reach of children and pets.
- Keep at least one fire extinguisher in an accessible place in your home
- Let children cook when there isn’t an adult present or play games in the kitchen when someone else is cooking.
- Put fire hazards, such as metal foil, silverware, paper bags, styrofoam, plastic or stainless steel mugs in the microwave.
- Run the microwave with nothing in it, as this can cause it to overheat.
- Use glass bowls on the stovetop.
- Put towels and plastic materials on or near the top of the stove, which heats up when a burner is on.
- Put blankets or clothes over lamps, lights or a radiator while playing.
Plan: know what to do in case of a fire
Even if you and your family practice the above fire safety tips, home fires can and do occur. That’s why it’s also important to plan out what to do in case of an emergency.
When teaching these tips to children, it’s important to keep the mood serious, but upbeat, as you don’t want to scare the little ones. Introduce helpful rhymes and exercises that allow them to plan what to do in case of a fire and review the coloring pages we have here to make the learning process more fun.
In case of a fire:
- Establish a safe family meeting point and make sure the entire family knows where it is.
- If you see, smell or hear a fire, move away from the source and alert others immediately.
- Tap any doorknob with the back of your hand to make sure it is not hot or that there is not a fire on the other side.
- If you are unable to escape, bunch towels, blankets or any fabric under the doors and cracks to prevent more smoke from coming in.
- If you cannot get out, stay somewhere visible where someone can find you. Never hide in a closet, bathroom or under the bed.
- Fall and crawl and then stay low and go out the planned escape points — smoke and heat rise, so the closer to the ground you can stay, the better.
- Stay away from walls, shelves or high objects that can fall as the building is weakened by the fire.
- After you get safely out of the home, call 9-1-1 and tell them about the fire. Make sure your children practice saying “nine, one, one” and not “nine, eleven,” as phones don’t have a number “11” and that can confuse them when in an emergency and not thinking clearly.
- Once you leave the house, stay out! Never go back in a room or the house for something you left behind.
For more rhymes that will help the little ones memorize what to do in an emergency, check out these songs and poems and use the coloring page below to start a conversation with them.
Practice: more fire safety tips for kids
The final “P” of fire safety is practice. Help your family practice what they’ve learned by reviewing our activity pages and playing the games below.
Fires can spread throughout the house in seconds and can travel in air ducts, electrical wiring and on wall coverings, so it’s important to know your options for getting to safety. Go through every room in your house with your children and identify two ways to get out of each one. At least one should be a door, but if you have a two-story home, the most direct path outside may require a fire ladder that can be used to escape out of a window. If that is an option for you, make sure everyone in the house can open the window and safely place the ladder.
Turn this into a game by timing family members to see how quickly they can get out of the room and to your family meeting spot. Remind kids to use the safety tips they learned above, such as feeling the doorknob with the back of their hand before opening it. For fire ladders, make sure you test them during a fire drill, but exercise safety and don’t let anyone race down them.
Stop, Drop and Roll Game
The Organized Homeschooler shared a fun way to learn how to properly practice the stop, drop and roll action in case your clothing catches on fire.
Cut out several felt triangles and rub them on clothes until they stick with static electricity. Then, have your children roll around on the carpet or a rug until all of the triangles have been “extinguished” or are now sticking to the floor. Time them to see who can remove the felt flames first!
With these tips and games, you can be confident that your family will learn the three “P’s” of fire safety and will know what to do in case of an emergency. Just remember that the most important step is prevention, which can begin before you even purchase a house.
If you are or will be looking for a new home in the future, be sure to ask your Realtor about the specifics of a home inspection, which can help you find a home that is set up with proper fire prevention from the beginning. If you are a current homeowner, be sure to thoroughly go through all the steps above and exercise extra care during the winter months, when there is a higher risk of home fires.