Warning: Smoke Alarms May Not Wake Your Children!
I’ve always been a bit scared of fire. Mostly because my dad’s house burned down when I was a kid (I wasn’t there) and he engrained a healthy– or perhaps borderline paranoia– fear of fire in me.
When I lived on the 2nd floor of an apartment, he bought me an escape ladder. Even once I moved to Manhattan, I kept that ladder as a safety precaution until my boyfriend pointed out that it really wasn’t going to help me on the 14th floor. “Well, at least it will get me to the 13th floor! That’s closer to the ground.” Not great logic but it helped me sleep at night.
Once I had children, I took the threat of fire even more seriously. I own fire extinguishers which I’ve actually had the opportunity to use. Like when my 5-year-old and 3-year-old decided to make popcorn in the toaster oven while I was nursing my newborn twins upstairs.
For the record – I sent them to get pretzels out of the cabinet.
It’s quite terrifying to hear your young children scream, ““MOMMY!! COME DOWNSTAIRS. THERE IS FIRE!!”
I ran downstairs to find our toaster oven engulfed in flames. Thankfully, using a fire extinguisher is very intuitive and the blaze was out in seconds. No one was hurt except the toaster oven.
Afterward, I explained to my daughters that they are NEVER, EVER, EVER to use the toaster oven and the 5-year-old asked, “What about when I’m an adult?”
“I’ll think about it,” I responded.
I also make sure to have batteries in all my smoke detectors but then I found out this might not be enough to protect my children. Why?
Because many children can and often do sleep right through the piercing sound of a smoke alarm.
I have seen this with my own kids when our home security alarm goes off accidentally. Despite the fact, that it jolts me awake immediately, my own children (now ages 8, 6 and almost 3) will sleep peacefully through it for minutes. That is SO SCARY.
Studies show that children are often likely to sleep through a fire alarm because they spend more time in a deep sleep than adults do. And we all know that every second counts when it comes to escaping a fire.
Research also shows that children are more likely to wake up to a recording of their parent’s voice instead of a standard smoke alarm. Voice smoke alarms don’t appear to be available on the market right now but manufacturers may develop them in the future.
So how can parents protect their children from a house fire?
— Keep fire extinguishers throughout the house like in the kitchen, garage, near fireplaces and other high risk areas.
— Check rooms for wiring that looks frayed, broken, blackened or overloaded.
— Review an escape plan with your kids. Practice it. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, children as young as three years old can follow a fire escape plan they have practiced often. (Although as a mother of nearly 3-year-old twins, I can not imagine my toddlers getting out of a burning house unassisted.)
— Adults should have a designated child to wake up in the event of an emergency.
— Teach children not to hide from firefighters, but to get out of the home quickly.
— Show children how to crawl low on the floor, below the smoke and get out of the house as fast as possible and stay out.
For more tips on preventing and surviving fires, click here.
Would love to hear how you speak to your kids about fire safety and any advice you can share.
Published April 14, 2013. Last updated October 29, 2017.