We’ve all heard the news stories before…”Fire kills entire family”, “Home completely destroyed”. Without rounding in your favor, without sugar-coating the truth, when was the last time you tested your smoke detectors? When was the last time you and your family practiced responding to your smoke detectors? Have you ever practiced? Do you have anything to practice…meaning do you have an emergency escape plan for your home?
You know what the right answers to these questions are, and if you can’t provide them, you are just one of many. We are getting back to basics tonight. Emergency preparedness is more than go-kits and fancy camping supplies. It is also all of the basic things we learned from those visiting firemen in elementary school. The hard fact is, that was decades ago and frankly you were taught then that your parents were going to do it for you. Now many of us are parents ourselves. We have a responsibility our loved ones.
You have got to have an emergency escape plan and you have to PRACTICE it! First of all, take a walk through your home and do an assessment. Consider what you are at risk for. Consider the structure and design of your home. Do you have gas heat or appliances? How many stories does your home have? Do you have a basement? If so, is there egress from your basement? Which rooms have windows? Are they accessible or do you have furniture blocking them? What is below the windows outside? What about your door locks? Do you have the deadbolts that lock from the inside with a key rather than a knob? Where do you keep that key? Is it accessible in a dark, hot, smoke-filled, adrenaline inducing, life-threatening moment? The answers to these questions will affect the plan that you craft.
Consider all of your possible evacuation routes (doors, windows, and garage exits). Now consider the hazards associated with each. Make plans to mitigate those problems that you can. Decide which routes are viable as of right now and which ones need work. Outline what needs to be done to make them viable? What is the cost associated? Will you choose to prepare those routes or just write them off and have less escape route options.
SMOKE DETECTORS! Get them. For every floor of your home. Test them frequently. Change the batteries religiously. Teach children about them. Tell them what they are, how they are used, and let them hear it. They need to know what they sound like, and that sound needs to scare the bejesus out of them. Practice with them. This means have your family go to sleep, you stay up and after they have been asleep several hours, set the alarms off. Who wakes up? Everyone? Some of them? There have been studies that some (too many) children will actually sleep through smoke detectors. The following is a link to just one of the many articles on the topic.(http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/25/children-sleep-through-fire-alarms-study-shows/#disqus_thread) You won’t know if your kids fall into this category until you do a true test. If you do find that they don’t wake up quickly enough or at all, consider other options. They make smoke detectors that allow parents to pre-record their voice instead of beeping. Imagine that instead of a random beep, your child hears your voice loudly telling them, “There is a fire. Get up. There is a fire William. Wake up. Get out of the house.” Another option is to have a secondary smoke detector in their room that utilizes bright light instead of sound. These types of smoke detectors were originally designed for the deaf community; however, they may be a realistic option for your family if they work better than the traditional alarm.
Can you evacuate from the upper floors? Are you prepared to jump out of windows in a fire? If you are on the second story you may be fine or only sprain an ankle, but would your three-year old be fine? If you have children in an upstairs bedroom, you need to consider purchasing an escape ladder for their window. These can be found on the interweb and cost anywhere between $35.00-$80.00 depending on whether or not you need the 2 story or 3 story version. I can’t stress enough that these need to be practiced regularly if you expect children to use them, especially in such a high stress situation. Also, note that most of the manufactures of these escape ladders mark the products as “one time use only”. I find this to be useless because children are going to need to practice these skills. What if you are already incapacitated and their only hope is to use the ladder all by themselves? I did find one company, First Alert, that does not include the “one time only” warning anywhere on or in their packaging. So buy theirs, practice, and then store the thing where 1) the kids can identify it and access it and 2) with strict understanding of the seriousness involved. These ladders can become tangled and/or bent if misused. If that happens, they will not be of use in the “heat” of the moment.
Just one note about basements. If you do not have egress out of your basement, please do not use them for sleeping. A basement with no egress is a death trap during a fire.
Lastly, let say that you make it out of the house. Now where are you going? If your house is on fire and you happen to have gas in the home, you might not want to wait for the fire department right in the front yard. Have pre-arranged relocation sites designated for your loved ones. Practice having smaller children going to those locations and becoming familiar with them. For instance, my kids know to meet us at the front of our community club house which is about a block away. If we can’t meet there, they know to go to the front of the community which is about four blocks away.
I know this was long, so I’ll stop. But this is basic stuff that far, far too often gets overlooked. Be sure you’ve considered the simple things at home. The things we sort of all know and somehow so many still ignore. This topic may not be as exciting as picking out your 12 degree below zero sleeping bag, but realize that they taught you these things in school as a little guy or gal for a reason. It’s that real, it’s that scary, and it can happen to you.
Still hoping to drum up questions or concerns. Leave me some feedback. Take care.