2 minute readHealth & Safety

Fire Safety Flop

If you visit and read this blog regularly, you may remember this post, which I wrote back in October after spending an entire afternoon teaching my son (five-year-old Will) about fire safety and holding numerous fire drills.

I’ll be honest, after that afternoon I felt pretty darn good about Will’s fire preparedness and was confident he would know what to do should a fire ever break out in our home.

Fast forward to last weekend, just four months after our Fire Drill Extravaganza. I was in the kitchen, melting broken crayon pieces into heart-shaped crayons for Valentine’s Day. I accidentally left the muffin pan in the oven for a minute too long, and when I opened the oven door the smell of burning wax wafted out. Within seconds the alarm of the smoke detector pierced our quiet morning.

The terribly loud and incessant beeping made me cringe as picked up a kitchen chair and hurried across the living room to the hallway smoke detector.

It was at this point I realized that even though I knew there wasn’t a fire, my kids didn’t know there wasn’t a fire.

I stood quietly in the hallway for a moment, waiting for Will to spring into action and save himself and his sister from the “fire”.

I waited…and waited…and waited, slowly going deafer…and deafer…and deafer.

I finally stuck my head into Will’s room – the door of which was open and is four feet from the smoke alarm – and found him SITTING ON HIS BED AND READING A BOOK. WHILE THE SMOKE DETECTOR WAS GOING OFF.

Erin: “What are you doing?!”
Will: “Reading a book.”
Erin: “Do you hear that noise?!”
Will: “Yes.”
Erin: “Do you know what that noise is?”
Will: “Um…is it the smoke detector?”
Erin: “YES! It’s the smoke detector! What should you be doing right now?!”

At this point Will dropped his book, jumped up, and ran out of his room, cruising right past his confused little sister and heading out the front door. As he left the house I called after him, “do you think you should take your sister with you?”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”

Will grabbed Hallie’s hand, dragged her down the front walk and across the street, and settled her at our meeting place.

I stood there in the middle of the living room with my head in my hands, partly because I was so exasperated at how poorly Will had responded to the “fire” and partly because I had a pounding headache from the still-alarming smoke detector.

After I beat the smoke detector into submission (it would NOT turn off), I brought the kids back inside and sat down with them to review our fire safety plan.

Throughout the many years I have been affiliated with the Red Cross I have talked to countless community members – adults and children – about how it’s not enough to simply HAVE a plan, about how sharing and practicing the plan are also important pieces of the overall preparedness puzzle. It wasn’t until last weekend, however, that I recognized just how catastrophic omitting the “practice” step could be. I made and shared the plan, and we practiced the plan at the beginning. But we hadn’t revisited the plan since that first day, and when it came time for Will to actually follow through – in broad daylight and when he was already awake and alert – he failed miserably.

Please review and practice your fire safety and emergency preparedness plans today. Or tonight. Or this weekend. Never assume your children were listening to (Hallie wasn’t) or will remember (Will didn’t) what you taught them the first, second, or even third time around. Don’t let them forget how crucial it is to know what to do and where to go when lives are on the line.

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  1. Great post, Erin. I know I felt like I flopped during the east coast earthquake – my head was saying, “Drop, cover, and hold on” but my body was all, “Run outside!” – practice makes all the difference in the world.

  2. Love this post! I don’t have children, but I can just picture my nieces and nephew doing the same as Will. Practicing is so important. However, I do give Will props for reading. I thought you were going to say he was playing his Xbox.

  3. Sooooo true! Curiously I was a first time chaperone on a school trip a couple weeks ago and the fire alarm went off in the hotel at about 12:30 am. It was quite amazing to see all the kids and other chaperones gathered together and accounted for except ME and one little boy who apparently fell back to sleep after his roommates woke him up and told him to follow (they thought he had). They practice regularly at school and it makes such a difference. Fortunately it was a false alarm, but it did make for an exciting trip!

  4. I experienced a first rate flop when our house was actually on fire. We were new homeowners with small children and we didn’t have a plan. Seriously, once we realized our house was on fire I think my husband and I wasted 30 seconds just staring at each other in shock! Then we got the kids out, but we didn’t have car keys, purse, wallet, or anything else. By the time it was done we’d lost our house and both cars.
    This was about 9 years ago and I’m so grateful for all the help our friends and family provided. I never even thought to contact the Red Cross, but all of our needs were met and more. Still, if we’d had a plan we could have saved our cars and the headache of replacing ID, checks, & credit cards.

  5. Evidence seems to be growing that identification of and response to smoke detectors and fire alarms is a learned skill. Kids just hear a loud noise. They don’t associate that noise with danger until they are trained to do so, through drills at home and school.

    Do a Google search on “smoke detector children parents voice” for an interesting alternative take on the effectiveness of the migraine-inducing screeches of most home smoke detectors.

  6. We had a fire last year caused by our dryer and luckily we were able to save our house (the damage was contained to the utility room only) My husband and I had just put our children to bed and were settling in for the night and we had a comforter in the dryer and it caught on fire! The smoke alarms in our house started going off like crazy as we frantically ran around the house trying to figure out where the fire was…than I was grabbing the kids and trying to get them out of the house and my daughter 8 at the time sat on the floor in the utility room (where the fire was!!) crying and trying to put her shoes on! As the other two were grabbing their shoes and running out of the house…needless to say after that night we went over fire safety and the do’s and don’ts…It really opened my eyes…Now we have drills and go over fire safety every few months…You never know when you will need those skills…

  7. […] on February 16th, 2012 by Erin FerrisWhen my smoke detector went off last week (triggering the Fire Safety Flop) I had been in the process of making heart-shaped crayons to accompany my kids’ Valentines […]

  8. Good example Erin. I like your post. It seems like children these days are less aware of dangers and they do not take things seriously. If that was a real fire you could have lost your children. I hope you had made some changes in the way treat your son. He do not take your instructions serious and that needs to change. Also, be sure to let him be more caring for his sister’s well being.

    I hope all parents take the initiative to teach their children the fire drill. It just might save your children lives. Good job Erin. Keep it up.

  9. At UW-Whitewater, when the fire alarm goes off sometimes students do not want to leave the building but the campus security make sure everyone leave the build, even in winter. They do this to make sure we are following the fire drill. They take it very seriously.