A home fire is reported every 87 seconds, yet many parents say their children wouldn’t know what to do if they heard a smoke alarm. Fire Prevention Week 2020 kicks off on October 4, and it’s the perfect time to educate kids.

By Aleksandra Mencel
Updated October 02, 2020
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Credit: mat277/shutterstock

Did you know that local fire departments responded to about 1.3 million fires in 2019? According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), these fires caused about 3,700 civilian deaths, 16,600 reported injuries, and $14.8 billion in property damage. It’s vital to inform your family about the dangers of fires—and Fire Prevention Week aims to do just that.

The national observance happens each year in October to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, which took place in October 1871. The theme of Fire Prevention Week 2020 (October 4-10) is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!” It will address the dangers of unattended cooking—the leading cause of home fires and injuries. And even as we social distance, there are great resources available to educate kids on fire safety.

This year, The Hartford is hosting a live virtual fire-safety event on October 6. According to Jeff Welch, Assistant Director of The Hartford, it was made to “address the critical lack of in-person, fire-safety education available to elementary school students in 2020.” During the 30-minute live steam, children will learn about smoke alarms, escape plans, meeting places, and more. 

“The event will also feature a smoke and escape plan demonstration in The Hartford’s fire safety trailer and a video congratulations from firefighters around the country, recognizing them for their achievement,” says Welch. After the event, students will become "Junior Fire Marshals,” and they’ll join the 111 million kids that have been deputized through the program. Teachers and parents can register at www.juniorfiremarshal.com/register.

To keep the learning going, we rounded up easy activities you can do as a family each day of Fire Prevention Week 2020 to ensure your kids are prepared in case of an emergency.

1. Draw Up Your Escape Routes 

Don’t worry—this activity sounds more intimidating than it actually is, and the NFPA’s website has a printable blank grid you can use as a guide. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Check Your House Number 

Stand in front of your home with your child, and ask them if they think the number is marked clearly enough for firefighters to easily find you. If not, let them pick a new house number like the reflective OSHA- and ANSI-approved 911 address signs sold on safetysign.com for around $19.

5. Spread the Word 

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. Spreading the word about fire safety might help other families take the necessary precautions as well.

6. Have a Mock Fire Drill

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 them as junior fire marshal. Show them 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, decide in advance of the drill which adult’s in charge of grabbing them 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.

7. Learn About Wildfires

Although Fire Prevention Week mainly addresses home fires, it’s important to discuss wildfires, too, especially in light of the wildfires that have devastated the west coast in 2020. According to Welch, The Hartford provides resources to help children understand the danger of wildfires and things they can do to help their families prepare. Check out their informative article here. Groups of students can also complete this activity, which teaches how wildfires start and spread, how to keep communities safe from wildfires, and more.

Parents Magazine

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