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[The following post is sponsored by Kidde]
I live in a tinderbox. At least that’s how it appears in my nightmares. My house is narrow and tall, four stories, with front and back doors on the bottom floor and a front entrance on the second floor. Getting trapped on the third or fourth floors in a fire scares me so much I can’t put it into words. And those two floors are where we all sleep.
One of the first things I did when we bought this house was buy escape ladders – plastic and metal ladders that hook on to your windowsill in an emergency. The only problem is, the ones we bought are huge and heavy, and the hooks didn’t actually fit on our giant pre-Civil War windowsills. They’ve been gathering dust, completely useless. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for escape ladders and don’t have ridiculous windowsills, Kidde sells great, compact escape ladders.)
And while getting those ladders working is still a goal, I’ve tried to compensate by making sure that we have many, many Kidde smoke alarms – about half from the Worry Free line of smoke detectors and half hardwired – and that they are all in working order.
But the one BIG thing missing in our house? A fire escape plan.
We had nothing. We hadn’t even discussed a meeting place outside with the kids, at least not recently. I remember talking about all of this stuff with the kids years ago, but none of us can remember where the original meeting place was, it’s been so long. And nothing was down on paper.
Recently I sat down with the kids to make a plan. But first, I prepared myself with these:
- Some great info about fire safety for kids from the United States Fire Association.
- I just skimmed this one, but if you have babies and toddlers, there’s more fire safety info for you here.
- I also looked over this escape planning info.
- There’s also a ton of fantastic fire escape planning info here, including resources for parents of special needs kids.
- Finally, I printed out four copies of this planning grid.
The planning session
I gathered the kids and had them watch this video.
It’s geared more towards the parent who’s planning the fire drills, but since my kids are a little older, I wanted them involved. I wanted them invested in this process. I wanted them to take it seriously! And I was also counting on the know-it-all factor: “Mom, YOU don’t do that!” Accountability, people. Kids love to point out when we’re not doing something right. Plus, Fiona was delighted that the little girl in the video had the same doll house. :-)
We went over some important points, like feeling doors for heat, and closing doors as they escape to keep the fire from spreading. And we had to have a very sad talk about how if there were trouble, our cat would probably hide, and it would be really dangerous for us to look for her – every second counts. Neither kid really wanted to accept that they would have to leave KitKat behind in a fire, and this really worries me.
Our escape plans for each floor – not our first drafts. :-)
We talked about having two escape routes from each room, but until we get those ladders working, that’s going to be impossible, so we also talked about opening windows (the kids had a hard time getting the old screens open – another item that went on my to-do list), and waving clothing or a towel out of the window to get attention.
Jake, of course, wanted to try to practice getting from his bedroom window out on to the roof. Um, no. Like climbing down the escape ladders, that will not be practiced, much to his disappointment. There’s only about two feet of roof in front of his window, and then a four-story drop. That’s an exit of last resort.
Next I put blindfolds on them, and we practiced scooting down the stairs and getting to the closest door. I’m not going to lie: it was hard to get them to concentrate for this one – the blindfolds were a distraction (but necessary). But I explained how dark the hallways could be if there were a fire, and how easy it would be to fall down the stairs. Besides, smoke rises, so low is the way to go. This was our first time practicing anything like this, but it won’t be the last. I’m hoping that next time they take it a little more seriously.
Last, we talked about a meeting place outside, so that there’s no confusion about who got out and who didn’t. If the only escape is to the backyard, that’s going to be tough, because it’s fenced in all the way around. We can get to our neighbors’ backyard, but if they aren’t home, they we’re just stuck in a different backyard. I don’t have a good answer for that one. But assuming we all make it out the front door, we meet on the corner, in front of the day care center.
I know the whole process of planning for a fire should help put me at ease, but I know from my experience fighting small fires in North Carolina that until you actually try something like this, practicing just doesn’t quite cut it (although it’s definitely better than nothing). The heat, the panic, the fumbling…it can be overwhelming.
I’m going to spring a few surprise fire drills on the family in the coming weeks, and I’m hoping that as these get more routine, they’ll take them more seriously. I’m trying to walk the very fine line between scaring the kids too much, and driving home to them just how important all of this is.