Monday, September 27, 2010

Never Too Early For Fire Safety

Check out the article (below) that appeared in Saturday's Statesman about teaching children fire safety. This is the second in a two-parter that started on the "Mama Drama" blog. Special thanks to FF Tim LaFuente and the crew from Station 30 (A shift) for representing AFD so well!

Never too early to consider fire safety
Tara Trower, Raising Austin
September 25, 2010

My husband, Dave, is the kind of guy who prepares for the unexpected. He's the one who double-checks the car seats, and he refuses to live in a house at the bottom of a hill (lest it flood). He's also thought of every possible escape route in the house in case of fire.

Recently, Dave wondered how our daughters, who are 1 and 3 and sleep in the same room, would get out of the house during an emergency. They are too young to do it on their own, I warned, and asserted that they were probably better off staying put until we or a firefighter came to get them. That's when we realized that the only way into the room from the outside was by breaking the window directly over Elizabeth's crib. Not good.

"Do not put the crib under a window," says Tim LaFuente, who is in charge of fire education for the Austin Fire Department. "It might not look nice, but it is definitely safer" to place it on a window-free wall. Beds, though, are fine under the window because older children can move freely.

I had called LaFuente the day after our conversation about exit routes, mostly because I wanted to know what else I had neglected to consider.

His No. 1 recommendation: Teach kids to sleep with their doors closed. Fires rarely start in bedrooms, and those that do are largely because of cigarettes and candles. So the chances of an actual fire starting in the baby's room are slim, he said. A closed door gives extra time for rescuers.

"You should be sleeping with your door closed, too, for the same reason," he said. "I know it might take some time, because kids like the security of having the door cracked. But tell them they are safer with the door closed."

Kids younger than 5 can learn an exit plan with a lot of practice, but they can't be relied upon to test the door with the back of their hand. They also might not even hear the fire alarm. (Studies show that kids younger than 12 often do not hear alarms because they sleep more deeply than adults. LaFuente recommends smoke alarms that allow parents to record a personal warning message, but those models can be tough to find in stores or online. For more on this, see our Mama Drama blog, www.statesman.com/mamadrama.)

So what should parents do? Make sure there are working smoke detectors throughout the house. Practice your exit plans with your children. Show them how to touch the backs of doors before opening them. In case of fire or suspected fire, get everyone out, then call 911 from another home; don't waste time tracking down your cell phone. And once you get out, stay out. Half of people who go back into a burning house don't come back out, LaFuente says.

What's the 30-year veteran's other biggest piece of advice?

Make sure kids know not to be afraid of firefighters. "When they are dressed in all that gear, a firefighter can be intimidating. Kids will hide, making rescuing them difficult," he says.
The Austin Fire Department makes dozens of visits to area preschools and day-care facilities, just so kids have a chance to see firefighters up close, touch the equipment and try on the air masks. If your kid isn't in day-care or might be too skittish for the group presentation, just take them to your local station. If the firefighters aren't on call, they will give him or her a demonstration. (They will also check those car seats for you.)

LaFuente invited me to sit in on one of the presentations at Little Munchkins Learning Center in North Austin. The kids were excited about the fire truck from Station 30 at a distance, but up close and personal, you could see the concern in their eyes, especially the younger ones. There were some tears, although not as many as during some visits, the firefighters assured me.

Each kid who did melt down got a personal pep talk from Fire Specialist Matt Heck.

"It's OK to be scared. All that stuff looks pretty strange," he said as he knelt down to console one tearful 3-year-old. "But if we come to your house, even if you are scared, don't hide. Please. Can you promise me?"

The little boy sniffles and nods but is still emphatic about not approaching the fire truck. Maybe next year.

But in the meantime, Heck and his colleagues are happy that at least the preschooler knows who they are now.

Next steps for us? Moving that crib and a family field trip to our local fire station.