As we get close to the winter heating season, we also get closer to the fires which will be caused by fireplaces, candles and other open sources of heat or flame.
This year, in our local community, the fire department is handing out coloring books for kids. These books have a message for parents too. The biggest message is: Be sure your children know what to do in case of a fire.
This is an important message for all of us. As the survivor of a fire which completely burned down my childhood home when I was 16 or so, I can tell you that fire moves quickly. We lived in an older home in the country. The addition at the back of the house was wood framed inside and wood siding outside. It burned quite readily. From the time a passing neighbor saw the fire and woke us up to the time when we got out was no more than a couple of minutes. In that time period, the entire back end of our home had erupted in flames. In fact, the fire was so hot that the appliances in our kitchen (situated in the addition) were heaps of metal slag when the fire was finally put out.
We were lucky to get out with our lives. Especially since we didn't have a plan and made almost every mistake you can make, including trying to take things with us. The only saving grace was that we abandoned that effort in time and got out quickly and safely. Thank heavens our pet cat was curious enough to meet up with us at the basement steps. I carried her out. She was the only "belonging" with us, other than the clothes on our backs.
One of the key things that you must do in a fire is leave things behind. Often people are hurt because they are trying to save some item or belonging or maybe even the family dog which has run back into the fire. While truly tragic (we lost our dog this very way in our house fire), no belonging or pet who has panicked and run back into the fire is worth your life or the life of another loved one. As I learned the night of our house fire -- belongings may never be replaced, but the lives of your family members are the real things that matter. How much worse would it have been if I had lost one of my brothers, or my parents?
We were lucky enough to have a ready "escape route", despite the fact that we hadn't planned one. It's better to have one planned. Talk about this with your children: while you don't want them to become "paranoid", you also don't want them unprepared in case of an emergency. Discussions about what to do if something goes wrong and a fire gets started do not have to be morbid: the discussion can be factual, and you can even solicit your children's ideas. After all, some of them may even have tried escaping out of the house in novel manners. One of my brothers used to regularly crawl out a second-storey window and get on the roof to watch the stars. He was a great source of ideas, once we realized the need to have a plan.
Speaking of two-storey homes, have a way to get out of the house from the second storey. Make sure the children understand how the escape works, whether it involves a roap ladder that will hang from a window, or any other kind of gear. They should be able to understand as much as possible about what to do if they are alone, and where life-saving equipment is kept.
Finally, don't leave any fire or open flame source unattended. This could be your cigarette if you smoke. This could be the candles you light. This is definitely your fireplace. Unattended open flames are the biggest cause of fires, and the single biggest thing that we all can do to keep ourselves and our family's safe is to make sure they are kept in check.