Fire prevention and preparation are crucial to decreasing the number of injuries and deaths from this disaster. In 2012, there were 2,855 deaths and 16,500 injuries across the United States related to fires.1 To combat this, people need to be educated in responses and steps to take to avoid or respond to fire, should it occur. Those most at risk for fire injuries include children under the age of 5 and those over 54, according to FEMA.2 Pets are also at risk for injuries from fires, especially if the right steps are not taken at home to help protect them.
To help homeowners and firefighters decrease the risk of fires, we have prepared a resource guide specifically for kids, seniors and pets on the necessities of fire prevention, preparedness and, when needed, recovery. Below includes sections for each group on how to prevent home fires, how to prepare for fires should they start, and steps to take after the fire is extinguished. It is also important to talk to your local firefighters if you have additional questions about fires and preparing your home or family members (including the furry ones) for them.
Another step is teaching children the importance of fire safety through planning and drills. Ready.gov is a helpful resource for parents and educators to use when teaching kids how to prevent fires, with games and facts that are fun for kids.5 Sparky the Fire Dog is another popular resource that teachers use for teaching children about fire prevention and safety, with a website that includes activities, cartoons and even an app to make fire safety lessons more enjoyable for kids while being educational.6 Many other resources, like Fire Safe Kids, Operation Lifesaver, Club Fire Facts, Smokey the Bear, can be used by teachers and parents to help children understand why it is important to stay away from fire and what to do to prepare should one ever start in the home or at school.7
To prepare kids for a fire, one of the first steps is to make a plan. With the possibility of a home fire, parents need to a make an escape plan with their children so they know what to do if one occurs. Parents should discuss and then practice the escape plan with their children a few times so their kids know exactly what to do should a fire occur in the home. This plan should follow several steps, including:
The other two most important steps to fire preparation are the stop, drop and roll technique and calling 9-1-1 if a fire occurs. Children should learn how to stop, drop and roll for when their clothes or anything on their body catches on fire. Parents and teachers should demonstrate this technique for them and then have kids practice it a few times. Then, kids need to know how to call 9-1-1 whenever they see a fire, whether it is in the home on the stove or across the street at a neighbor's house. It should become an automatic response to an emergency, even outside of a fire.10 Visiting a local firehouse is also another good way for kids to learn more about fire preparation and get answers to questions they might have from the professionals who deal with it every day.
After a fire does happen, it is important for parents and teachers to take steps toward helping children recover from the experience. Kids have been known to react differently to fires, anywhere from anxiety to nightmares and sleep disorders from the experience. Parents have to handle the crisis appropriately so children know it is something to not fret too much over and work through in a positive manner, rather than stay afraid of for a long time.11 Some signs that parents should be aware of after a fire in their children are:
The key in these situations is for parents to talk to children and help them work through the fear and anxiety they feel following a fire. If parents need to find new housing following a fire, do not put the children with friends or relatives. Try to keep them with you as long as possible, because it helps decrease their anxiety. Be sure to explain things as you are working to get everything back in order and try to get them to talk to you so they get their fears out in the open rather than bottled up inside.13
Children's reactions will vary by how old they are, so it is important to take steps depending on that. For example, children who are infants will react differently than children in their adolescence. Their ability, or lack thereof, to express their reactions after a fire determines how to help them cope.14 Regardless of their age, parents should restore feelings of security through physical contact, re-establish daily routines, and restore a state of normalcy as soon as possible so children feel safe again in their environment.15
Some steps seniors can take to prevent fires in their homes are:
If an older adult lives alone, they should talk to their neighbors about their fire escape plans in case a fire breaks out, so neighbors will be able to help them in case they cannot get out. It is also a good idea for older adults to live on the bottom floor or near an exit of apartment building for easier escape during a fire. Be sure to also have emergency providers keep your records on file for special needs, if you have any, in case they need to come out during a fire to your home.19
In case of a fire, seniors should have several things prepared so that they are not caught unaware. They should have a phone or a TTY/TDD device next to their bed on a nightstand or end table within reach to call for help. Eyeglass, keys and hearing aids, if needed, should also be on the nightstand for easy access. If you smell smoke and need to access the kitchen or living room, a lamp or light switch should be easily within reach to avoid tripping or failing. Be sure to keep stairs and hallways clear for quick exit during a fire as to avoid getting trapped by burning debris.20
To also prepare for a fire or any other disaster, you should post a list of relatives or medical doctors near the phone or on the fridge who should be contacted in case something happens during the fire where you are injured. Any kind of special equipment you use should also be easily accessible for yourself and the emergency personnel to get to you if they need to get inside. Anyone who might need to help you, like nurses, family or neighbors, should know how to find and use these items in case they need to assist you during a fire as well.21 It is also a good idea to practice your escape plan several times and know more than one escape route in case the first is blocked for whatever reason.
After a traumatic event like a house fire, older adults will often take longer to recover and return to normalcy. Some of the most common signs that people will see and need to be aware of in older adults after a fire include:
It is important for them to have a strong support network whether it comes from family, neighbors, friends or their local clubs and organizations. If they do not, often seniors will start to decline in health and mental stability, which could lead to hospitalization or other major problems in the long-term. Family members and friends should help them return to their normal routines and be there for them to talk about the experience. The more they work through the trauma, the easier it will be for them to return to normalcy.
It is harder to prepare a pet for a fire as compared to older adults or children. According to the Ann Arbor News, the best way to prepare a pet is to include them in the fire escape plan. That means having a leash or carrier near the door to easily transport the pet out with the rest of the family during the emergency. It makes it easier to control the cat or dog rather than try to herd them out. A dog can also be trained to understand the importance of the smoke alarm going off by practicing the smoke alarm going off and doing the escape plan with the animal. Like a child, this puts the dog in the habit of understanding and associating the smoke alarm with a routine.
Another major way to integrate the animal with the fire escape plan involves the child or kids. Often, an animal will sleep near them, so it will be easier to find the cat or dog near the kid rather than looking all over the house for them. In such cases, homeowners should consider putting the carrier or leash near the child rather than near the front door. If the child is old enough, they can be given the responsibility to leash the dog or put the cat in the carrier to get them outside.
Other options to consider for preparing an animal for fire escapes are:
Animals will usually react to a fire or any other kind of disaster by being scared or traumatized for a while. Their reactions range from biting and scratching people or furniture to urinating and defecating on the floors.26 In such cases, owners need to be attentive and comforting, keeping them calm and providing them with love so they understand that everything is fine and normal again. Pets should not be brought back into a home until all smoke and fire damage has been repaired.
The mainstay for helping pets recover from fires is getting them back on a routine. Using their favorite toys, the usual diet of food and water, regular play, and calm, pets will eventually calm down and get back to normal. If you are still uncertain about their mental health, you can always take them to a veterinarian to see if they might need sedatives or other medication to help them calm down.