Draw your escape routes. Don’t worry—this sounds more intimidating than it actually is, and the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) website has a printable blank grid and fire-safety maze you can use as guides. Ask your child to assist you as you clearly mark two ways out of every room. “Kids tend to be visual learners, so this helps them remember how they’ll actually get out of the house,” says Lisa Braxton, associate project manager in the public division of the NFPA. Once you’re done, hang the floor plan up on your fridge, bulletin board, or any other spot everyone in your house looks at regularly.
Pick a meeting place. Have your child suggest a location that would be far enough away from fire and smoke, but in front of your home so that firefighters could find you quickly. Ideally, you want to choose a stationary item, like a telephone pole, tree, or mailbox that’s easy to spot both during the day and at night. Once you agree on the place, add it to your floor plan.
Review the smoke alarms. Give your kid a printout of the NFPA’s Smoke Alarm Safety Checklist, and read each question together to learn about installation, testing (fire experts say you should do it monthly—yes, monthly!), and maintenance. An example: “Do you know how old your smoke alarms are?” If not, remove each alarm briefly from its mounting and have your child find the manufacture date on the back. Any alarms ten years or older should be replaced.
Check your house number. Stand in front of your home with your child, and ask her if she thinks the number is marked clearly enough for fire fighters to easily find you. If not, let her pick a new house number like the reflective OSHA- and ANSI-approved 911 address signs sold on safetysign.com for around $19.
Time for a pop quiz. Challenge your big kid to the 14-question Fire Prevention Week quiz on the NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week website.
Spread the word. You’re almost ready for tomorrow’s (surprise!) fire drill. Share a silly “safety selfie” of you and your kid in front of your meeting place, or snap a pic of your impressive escape route using the hashtag #HomeFireDrillDay. Tell your child that you’ll have a family fire drill at some point tomorrow, just like the ones she has at school.
It’s drill day! The goal is for everyone to get out of the house and to the meeting place in under two minutes, explains Tareka Wheeler, director of U.S. programs for Safe Kids Worldwide. (That’s about how long it can take for a fire to spread.) If you have an older kid who loves to take charge, appoint her as junior fire marshal. Show her how to work the stopwatch on your phone and when to start and stop it during the drill. “It’s a fun way to engage your child and make fire safety seem less scary,” says Wheeler.
Whenever you’re ready, surprise your family with the fire drill. Push the button on your smoke alarm, and make sure everyone gets out of the house and to the meeting place in time without running. If you have a baby, be sure to decide in advance of the drill which adult’s in charge of grabbing her before exiting. After taking roll call, make note of how long the drill took, and then set a new challenge: to beat your family’s current time at your next surprise drill, which should happen twice a year. Now you can celebrate your family’s hard work with lots of hugs and high fives.