According to a recent Good Morning America segment on fire safety, an estimated half of all house fires happen in the middle of the night while everyone is asleep. Additionally, more than 80 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 13 do not wake up from a standard issued fire alarm.
Why don’t children wake up? Dr. Robert Cole, lead facilitator for BIC’s play safe! be safe! fire safety education program and one of the nation’s leading experts on child fire safety, explains that “children, young children in particular, have a remarkable ability to block out sounds that are not relevant to them when they are asleep. This explains how they can fall asleep at a big sporting event. The typical smoke alarm is just such a sound. Even if they are awakened, they will fight fully waking up, pulling their pillow or covers over their heads. Children also spend more time in deep sleep than adults. This too makes them less likely to awaken to the sound of the alarm.”
What can parents do? Create a fire escape plan that accounts for children not waking up, and more importantly, practice the plan. Dr. Cole says, “Parents should understand that children, especially preschool and early elementary school children are unlikely to wake up at the sound of the alarm and should build that into their exit plan. They should decide in advance who will get which children. Practicing the family exit plan will make everyone, including groggy children, respond more quickly and efficiently. Practicing the exit plan at night once the children are asleep also increase the likelihood that the children will awaken in a real emergency after the sound becomes part of a practiced behavior.”
Follow this Escape Plan Checklist when creating a plan for your family:
- Develop an escape plan for your home that accounts for the capabilities of everyone there, including children. Make sure the plan clearly describes what everyone should do if the alarm sounds.
- Identify at least two routes out of every room, or anywhere someone might be sleeping.
- Identify a meeting place and remember to teach your kids once they get out, stay out!
- Take turns pretending to call 911 as practice. Every family member should be prepared to provide the emergency dispatcher with their name, address, phone number, nearest corner to the house, and the reason for the call
- Try out your plan to make sure it is feasible.
- Periodically practice your plan. Practice will make it more likely that everyone will remember their responsibilities and act quickly, especially if awakened during the night.
- Update your plan when there are changes in your home or family.
An unexpected house fire is scary, especially when there are young children in the home. Make sure that your family is prepared by sharing your escape plan with babysitters, family and friends in case you are not home if a fire strikes. For more information on fire safety, visit the play safe! be safe! website at www.playsafebesafe.com.