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Home Fire Safety for Kids: Tips and Best Practices
According to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) report, Playing With Fire, 67% of fires involving play occurred in residential properties. Home fires can start and spread quickly — a home can become engulfed in flames in less than five minutes. The most common causes of house fires involve cooking, heating systems, faulty electrical equipment, careless smoking, and candles. It is natural for children to be curious about fire since they witness adults interacting with fire. However, if there is suspicion a child is setting fires intentionally, it’s best to seek out an expert and their help immediately.
Having a fire safety plan and practicing fire safety at home can help kids become more familiar with the dangers of fire, and parents can take preventive measures with their children.
Fire Safety Tips for Kids
Fires started by children can happen because they are left unsupervised. When in doubt, it’s important to ensure that children know that fire is dangerous and should be used with the utmost caution by adults. By following the fire safety tips below, parents can make sure their child can become familiar with fire in a safe way.
Matches and Lighters
In the NFPA report, 52% of fires were started with a lighter, while 18% were started with matches. Fires started with these supplies caused 82% of civilian deaths. Children are particularly at risk of being burned due to their experimentation with matches and lighters. To keep children safe, parents should:
Store matches and lighters out of reach of children;
Teach children that matches and lighters are tools for adults;
Avoid leaving children unattended;
Teach children to tell adults when they find matches and lighters;
Allow children to help light grills, candles, etc, under supervision (if the parent feels comfortable doing so).
Matches and lighters claim many lives each year, but with proper teaching and caution, those deaths may be prevented.
Cooking is the leading cause of house fires. Often, children want to help their parents cook to bond with them. However, they can be a distraction for adults. Many kitchen fires are started by cookbooks left too close to open gas flames, or by leaving toasters or hotplate unattended. To prevent fires in the kitchen, be sure to:
Never leave a child unattended with a burning candle;
Never burn candles in a bedroom;
Keep candles a foot away from flammable objects;
Keep matches and lighters up high out of reach of children;
Don’t let kids light candles;
Invest in flameless candles;
Use a snuffer to put out a candle flame.
It’s important to remember that a candle is technically an open flame, and can easily ignite anything that can burn. Though they are pretty to look at, it’s better to keep candles out of the reach of children, just in case of an accident.
Pulling on Electrical Cords
Teaching kids about proper electrical safety may not only help prevent fires but also electrocutions and other injuries. This is especially true for electrical cords. Besides teaching kids to avoid touching these cords, parents can also:
Ensure all electrical cords are tucked away;
Avoid yanking cords out of the wall;
Keep electrical appliances away from water;
Keep loose cords in boxes and away from children;
Cover unused outlets with outlet covers to prevent children from sticking their fingers in the holes.
Not Using a Fireplace Screen
The glass on a gas fireplace can reach temperatures of 500 degrees — that’s hotter than a hair iron. Children have slower reflexes than adults, which can result in third-degree burns. There is also a risk of children falling or leaning on the glass because they are unsteady. One solution is to purchase an electric fireplace instead. These fireplaces simulate a real fire and can be used with or without heat, resulting in less risk of children burning themselves. Other tips include:
Watching children around fireplaces;
Teaching them to feel if it is hot with the back of their hand;
Ensuring your fireplace has a screen to prevent children from falling in;
Maintaining the fireplace area with fireplace tools to keep it clean and sanitary.
Also, be sure to keep the shelving and mantel surrounds clean and free of debris. This is also to ensure children won’t reach up toward the mantel and accidentally fall onto the fire or glass.
Fire Prevention Plan for Kids
A fire can happen in less than two minutes. Whether it’s a candle that accidentally gets knocked over or a cooking accident, a fire can get out of control quickly. Taking precautions can help save lives.
Reduce Toy Clutter
Piles of toys are not only a tripping hazard, but they can also obstruct escape routes during a fire. Toys should be kept out of major walkways in the home, either in a box or bins. Or, parents can follow these steps to reduce toy clutter:
Gather the child’s toys in the center of the room;
Throw away broken towy and ones that have missing pieces;
Sort the toys into categories;
Place each toy category into a corresponding box;
Rotate the boxes each week so no large amount of toys are out at one time.
Parents can also teach their kids to donate old toys to thrift stores, or participate in garage sales.
Keep Children Away From Heat Sources
Space heaters account for almost 10% of house fires, according to a U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) fire estimate summary. This is because space heaters are either put too close to flammable objects, like curtains and bedsheets, or they are placed in a room that is too big. These space heaters can cause fires in a matter of minutes, so it’s important to follow these safety precautions:
Avoid placing heaters in a child’s room;
Keep heaters at least three feet away from flammable objects;
Plug heaters directly into a wall outlet; do not plug them into a power strip;
Check the heater for cracked or broken plugs;
Teach children to get an adult to operate the heater;
Place heaters on a flat surface.
Keep Bedroom Doors Closed
Many fire safety experts have been telling families to close their bedroom door in case of a fire. A simulation done by firefighters found that bedrooms with closed doors only reached temperatures of 100 degrees, compared to bedrooms with open doors that reached 500 degrees. Additionally, carbon monoxide levels were ten times lower in bedrooms with closed doors than in bedrooms with open doors. This shows that closed doors can increase the time a child, or any person, has to escape. Parents should make sure their children know multiple escape routes from their room in case a fire has blocked the door.
Visit a Fire Department
Firefighters can teach children important fire safety rules if parents do not feel comfortable doing so themselves. Children can ask questions from experts about the dangers of fire, as well as general safety questions before, during, and after a fire. Parents can call their local fire department to set up a visit, or check with their child’s school to find out if they do school trips there.
Install and Test Smoke Alarms Frequently
Smoke alarms are the first indicator of a fire and can alert children and adults to danger in the home. They can even double the chance of families surviving a fire, so it’s important that they work and that kids know what to do when they hear them. Other smoke alarm tips include:
Changing the batteries every six months;
Test them once a month by pushing the test button;
Install a smoke alarm on every floor of the home, including the basement;
Replace smoke alarms every 10 years;
Teach children what smoke alarms sound like.
Parents can check with local fire departments if they find they have less than the desired number of smoke alarms.
Keep Fire Extinguishers in Your Home
Fire extinguishers should be kept in an easily accessible place, like under the kitchen sink. While there are many types of fire extinguishers, parents will want to make sure they have a fire extinguisher labeled A, B, or C. These are the common fire extinguishers found in households. To operate a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym, PASS:
Pull the pin;
Squeeze the lever slowly;
Sweep the nozzle side to side.
Parents should also make sure that kids understand how to operate a fire extinguisher, or at least can locate it and present it to an adult who can.
Fire Safety Plan for Kids
Creating a fire safety plan can help save lives. Since fires may leave very little time for families to evacuate the house, a safety plan will help children remember where to go and there will be a smaller chance of kids panicking. Many children run and hide when they are under stress, and during a fire, this can cause serious injury or even death. Parents will want to teach their children that outside is the safest place to be in the event of a fire.
Plan Multiple Escape Routes and Test Them
According to the American Red Cross, children should know at least two ways to escape from every room of the house. This is to ensure children will have a second escape option if their first one becomes compromised. This can be especially important for children with any kind of disability that might limit their ability to use the primary escape route.
Then, create a meeting place outside and away from the house the child should go to. This will help parents keep track of small children. Emphasize the fact that only professional firefighters should enter burning buildings, to prevent children from going back for pets, other family members, or toys.
The American Red Cross also states that families should practice their fire escape plan at least twice a year at different times of the day. This will help prepare children for any situation involving a fire.
Teach Children to Touch a Door Before Opening
A fire can reach scorching temperatures, which can cause many things in the house to heat up quickly, including doors and door handles. By feeling the door with the back of the hand, children can prevent their palms from getting burned. Sustaining burns on the back of the hand is less crippling, and will allow children to crawl underneath the smoke easier.
Use a Song to Help Children Remember
Music has been proven to boost memory and help children learn. Creating songs about fire safety could help children retain information better. This is because children learn better through rhythm and rhyme. For example, parents could take a popular song, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and create lyrics that pertain to fire safety for the child to learn.
Fire safety is an important aspect for everyone, especially children. A home fire can be a stressful and hectic situation. However, having a plan and teaching children about fire safety could prevent accidental deaths or injuries from fires.