Seven year old boy and his four year old sister dead as the result of a house fire in Galax VA. Their five month old sibling was taken out of the house by their mother as she escaped, and a three year old was rescued by the fire chief who entered the house and is being treated at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston Salem, NC.
Why do kids, people, keep dying in house fires? If the home has working smoke detectors, if the family has a fire escape plan and practice, it virtually no one should die in house fires. It’s really that simple. Most fire departments have programs to install smoke detectors free of charge for families that can’t afford them as well as replace batteries yearly. All you have to do is call them and ask. All fire departments will come to your home and help your family make an escape plan that works best for your house and the people in it. They will help you practice the plan and suggest any equipment you might need, like a second story folding ladder to use for climbing out of windows safely.
Children as young as two can be taught to follow a fire escape plan. Really. They will listen, won’t be afraid and can do the basic steps to get out safely, often on their own. No one should ever have to crawl through the house to exit from a front door, through a garage or back door. A window should always be considered an exit, often a first choice if you are in a bedroom, or room with no door to the outside. If there is a lot of smoke, fire or heat you should get on your hands and knees, crawl to the door or window, open it and climb out. Go to a meeting location away from the house, account for everyone while using a cell phone to call 911 for help. If you don’t have a cell phone, go to a neighbor’s to call for help. Be ready to tell the dispatcher your name, address, cross streets, type of structure, if people are all out, if anyone is injured, if any animals are inside. Do not go back inside the house for any reason. Practice this plan several times a year so that everyone feels comfortable with it and can follow it no matter where they are in the home anytime of day.
Fire departments are responsible for teaching fire safety, and they generally do a really poor job of that. They take a fire truck to schools during Fire Prevention Week in October, show them the guys in turn out gear, confuse kids by teaching them to touch the door to see if it’s hot, crawl under smoke, stop drop and roll, climb out a window, call 911 for help, let them wear the fire helmet and maybe Sparky shows up. That’s it. The fire service does not consistently teach kids or the public how to avoid fires, how to react to fires and how to save themselves from fires. They don’t tell the public that they are not going to be able to get there in time to rescue them from the fire, that they are going to have to rescue themselves.
So I’m telling you, because that was my job. That is my job. The fire department is not going to get there in time to rescue you if y our house is on fire. Your smoke detector will go off, so have one. When it goes off everyone should get low to the floor, start crawling to the nearest window exit or door if there is one going outside, open the window (put the second story safety ladder out to climb down), and exit. If there is a very young child an adult or older child should be assigned to crawl to the younger child to put it into a baby carrying pack, and crawl to the window exit. Everyone should meet at the family meeting location where someone will call 911 to report the fire. It really is that simple.
The family in Galax and the the fire department will live for years with the horrific memories of this day, one where two small children were lost and another has been terribly injured by a cooking fire. It was something that likely could have been avoided if they had just known how to escape on their own, how to get out themselves instead of waiting for someone to come get them. Don’t wait, plan today and practice tomorrow. Teach your children well.