Our article on smoke alarms and fire safety offers useful advice on fire prevention and fire detection in the home – but do your children know just what to do if there is a fire? Every year there are more than 40,000 accidental house fires in England resulting in about 285 deaths and 9,000 people injured. We hope this never gets put to the test, but we have outlined some basic government advice in here so that you can plan to keep your family safe if the worst happens.
Make a Fire Safety Plan with Children
Sit down with the children and explain about fire and how quickly it can take hold: even a small fire can spread in minutes. You may need to explain about the lethal effects of smoke inhalation – more than half of all fire fatalities are the result of smoke inhalation – as well as the more obvious danger of burns. Agree on a fire safety plan including an escape route and what to do (see below) if there is a fire.
Make sure children know how to use any fire equipment you have (see Fire Safety Products below). If necessary, write the fire plan down as a reminder. Here’s what to include in your family’s fire safety plan:
Fire Escape Route and Refuge
- Agree your first escape route – the best option is the normal route in and out of the home.
- Choose a second escape route to use if the first one is blocked and keep both routes clear of obstructions.
- Decide where to meet outside, by a lamp post, in a neighbour’s garden etc.
- If you can’t get out via any planned escape route, you will need to have an agreed room where you can all take refuge – a room with a window and a phone is the most suitable. It is good practice to have an escape window in every bedroom. Building Regulations for new two storey dwellings state that all habitable rooms on the first floor and all inner rooms (those entered via another room) must be provided with an escape window.
- Everyone should know where the keys for doors and windows are kept. Make sure children know never to move them when playing.
What to do if There is a Fire
Get everyone out
– the most important thing to remember in a fire is to get out fast. Make sure everyone in the house knows about the fire. Shout and get everyone together.
Be Quick – tell children never to go looking for favourite toys, clothes or pets and never try to investigate or put out the fire.
Shut all Doors – only open the doors you need to, to get out. Close any open doors and if you need to open a door, check it with the back of your hand. If it is warm don’t open it, as the fire is probably on the other side.
Beware of Smoke – smoke is poisonous and can kill you, and children are more susceptible because their lungs are smaller. Crawl on the floor, where the air is cleaner, and keep your nose as low as possible.
Call the Emergency Services – once you’re out safely, call the fire brigade, ambulance and police as necessary. Don’t panic and try to speak clearly, giving the address and explaining whether anyone is trapped. It is worth teaching your children what to say in case of emergency for situations like this. If you’re calling from a mobile phone it’s worth remembering that the European emergency number is 112 and this number will override keypad locks.
Never go Back in – ensure children know never to go back, even if they think someone is still in there. They will endanger their own lives and hamper the rescue.
What if the Escape Routes are Blocked?
If the fire is between you and your escape route, you have to decide what to do:
Window You may be able to escape through a window if it is on the ground floor. Only escape from a first floor window as a last resort. If you have to choose this option, there are few steps you can take to keep you and the children from serious harm:
- Cushion your fall with bedding, pillows and anything soft
- Don’t jump, lower yourself by the arms from the window ledge
- If there are two adults, one should go down first to catch children while the other should lower the children as far as possible before letting them drop
It may be worth investing in a fire safety ladder for your own piece of mind, see Fire Safety Products below.
If you Can’t Escape Through a Window You need to keep safe together in the building. Choose a room – you may have agreed this in your escape plan – with a window and a phone. Shut the door and seal it with bedding/cushions to block out the smoke. Open the window and call for help, lean out if you need to breathe and keep drawing attention to yourself.
Fire Safety Products
Smoke Alarms and Smoke Detectors – these are more important than fire extinguishers. A quarter of all people killed in home fires are asleep at the time. A smoke alarm with a working battery would have saved almost all of them.
Fire Blankets – they are good to use on fat pan fires on the cooker or for wrapping round someone whose clothing is on fire, which are good for the kitchen, but not general use. If you buy one, make sure it conforms to British Standard BS 6575.
Fire Extinguishers – small fire extinguishers are available to tackle a variety of fire types, but no single type is totally effective on every type of fire, so consider carefully before you buy. If you have one, make sure all responsible family members know how to use it and that small children know never to touch it. Position it somewhere you can get to it quickly, like the hall or landing, and never try to tackle a fire unless you feel it is safe to do so.
Fire Ladders – these are compact ladders, which come in a variety of lengths, and can be stored under a bed or on a landing and unrolled in case of an emergency escape through an upstairs window.