2 minute readHome Fire

I Know the #1 Cause of Home Fires. I Lived It.

Seven people die every day from home fires in the U.S., most of whom are children and the elderly. Many of these fatalities could have been prevented by the simple act of installing and testing smoke alarms. And unfortunately, most home fires start in the kitchen, on the stove top – exactly where mine did.

I have worked for the American Red Cross in many different roles over the past 13 years. Now I am the Europe Division Manager for Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces stationed in Landstuhl, Germany. But even with my years of experience, I am constantly surprised by how easy it is to forget my preparedness training when I come home. I learned just how important my training was one Sunday afternoon while I was sitting with my kids in our apartment.

Katherine pulling the burnt plastic off of her stove top.

So I’m the single mama of two amazing little humans, Noah and Amelia. They are awesome kids, and they are a lot of work! Being a single parent means you’re ALWAYS tired. Not like, “Oh, I need a nap it’s been a long week” tired. I mean physically exhausted to the bone. So tired you fall asleep anytime you sit still for more than three minutes; reading a book to your kids, bedtime prayers, sitting at traffic lights or waiting on a train. I even dozed off sitting on the toilet once!

Now that they are older and tend to get into less trouble, I thought I would try something new…a family nap on the couch with cartoons playing in case they woke up. So we all laid down on the couch, cuddled up and started watching a nice, calm and boring movie. Within 20 minutes the kids were out and I closed my eyes. Basically my brain said “NOPE, I need to shut down for a bit to reboot. You’re just going to have to deal.”

Next, I heard what sounded like a car alarm going off. So I kind of opened my eyes annoyed and looked around, because looking in my living room for a car burglar made TOTAL sense to a sleep-deprived brain.

The sound gradually got louder, but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I also couldn’t see very well because there was some sort of grime on my glasses, probably kiddie fingers. So I took off my glasses to defunk them and realized the grime was in the air.

Then my kids woke up and started crying. “What’s that noise mommy? Turn it off mommy! Mommy, why won’t it stop? Mommy it hurts my ears!”

I said, “Well crap, someone has burnt their toast again. Kids get your shoes on and get the dog. We have to go outside.”

Then I realized the smoke was getting thicker and that this might be an actual fire and yelled, “OK KIDS, I NEED YOU TO MOVE. LIKE FOR REAL! I THINK THERE IS A FIRE AND YOU NEED TO GET YOUR SHOES AND GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! LET’S GO!”

I looked around the room and tried to gather a few necessities and determined that the smell in the air was definitely plastic.

“Is it our apartment that’s on fire?” I asked as I started tripping over toys on my way to the kitchen. “But I wasn’t cooking anything!”

Then Amelia, my smart, sassy, and fearless, four year-old said, “I was. I made it for you!”

You made what? WAIT, YOU WERE COOKING… AMELIA!” Then I rushed to turn off the stovetop and noticed remnants of some plastic play plates and cutlery.

The stovetop with burned plastic on it.

So I grabbed the kids and went outside where I was met by half the fire department and all my REALLY annoyed neighbors and their pissed off pets. I thought, “Jesus take the wheel. It’s going to be a LONG afternoon and Mommy needs a nap.”

Katherine holding her four-year-old daughter Amelia.

Had it not been for the smoke alarms in my building, which were tested just last month, that day could have ended in tragedy, not a funny blog. This April, I challenge everyone to join the American Red Cross in our Sound The Alarm, Save A Life campaign to end home fires because the life you save could be your own.

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