When was the last time your family talked about fire safety at home? With so many other things on their minds, “Families may not think about it,” says Emily Samuel, program director at Safe Kids Worldwide, a global nonprofit dedicated to protecting kids from preventable injuries.
But think about this:
Fifty years ago, it took 30 minutes for the furnishings in a room of a typical American home to be engulfed in flames, according Underwriter’s Laboratory. Now because furniture is made with more synthetic materials, it takes less than three minutes. Fire safety experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the Red Cross say in five minutes or less an entire house could be burning.
In 2016, only eight percent of fires in the U.S. occurred in homes, but 30 percent of those resulted in deaths and 23 percent of those fires caused injuries, according to the National Association for Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Research shows that people with intellectual disabilities are four times more likely to die in a fire than the general population.In 2017, when our team at FireGuide interviewed over 100 caregivers and parents responsible for the welfare of children and adult dependents with cognitive disabilities, 96 percent ranked fire as one of their top three safety concerns. But more than 70 percent said they had no emergency plan and had never done a drill.
Plan for Fire Safety
Today’s fire alarms and smoke detectors are critical warning systems, but they don’t lead you to safety. With 80.7 percent of all fire fatalities occurring in the home, Underwriters Laboratories’ experts say fire safety education and planning is a key strategy to address fire fatalities.
· Find experts on the Internet. The American Red Cross “Great Escape Quiz” covers the basics of managing smoke alarms and evacuation in eight simple questions. Other expert resources can be found at the websites of organizations such asThe National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Safe Kids Worldwide, and The Department of Homeland Security, and Underwriter Laboratories, Inc.
· Look for resources designed for people who learn differently.Safe Kids offers an excellent animated video designed to help people with cognitive challenges comprehend basic safety concepts and recognize the signs of a fire emergency
· Personalize the plan for your family and home. No one knows your family member’s habits, or your home’s layout, better than you do. A walk through the house helps familiarize everyone with all the possible escape routes and exits.Use the NFPAs grid to draw a map of your home by (available in English (PDF) or Spanish (PDF). Mark two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.
· Practice your plan with regular drills.The NFPA recommends that families practice their fire escape plan twice a year. Families with a member with cognitive disabilities should do drills at least once a month. Regular exercises increase confidence and speed.
· Get to know your local fire department.Ask about open houses. Some local departments will schedule a private tour at the fire house so your kids can meet the fire fighters in their full gear.
· Ask about special needs registries.The Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio offers one example of special needs outreach and the registration form they use. If there isn’t a registry in your area, ask what you can do to get one started!
How to Make A Home Fire Escape Plan, National Fire Protection Association
FireGuide App Makes Fire Drills a Household Habit, by Lili Dwight, Disabilities Issues, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Winter 2018
Questions to Ask When Shopping for a Smoke Detector, tuck.com (evidence-based sleep health information)
Ann Graham is Chief Communications Officer for FireGuide, an app that automates custom fire drills for the cognitively impaired. Follow us on Facebook @FireGuideApp.