MOUNT VERNON — In addition to installing smoke detectors, having a home escape plan in case of fire is one of the most critical safety steps families can take. Regularly conducting fire drills at home with children can familiarize them with what to expect should a fire start at home.
According to the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal’s office, every family should regularly practice two escape routes out of the house. Officials from the SFM recommend one route through hallways and stairways, and an alternative route through windows or onto the roof. That way if the route through hallways is blocked by fire, the family can still find its way to safety.
SFM officials said that many fires start at night, so conducting a fire drill after children have fallen asleep is a good way to let children experience trying to find their way out while drowsy and half asleep.
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy, the father of two young boys, said another advantage to regular fire drills is helping children become accustomed to the sound of the fire and smoke alarms in the home.
“We do fire drills at our house, and the main thing I want to accomplish at home when I do them is to teach kids they do emit a different sound at our house than they do at school,” Christy said. “I want them to be aware of what it sounds like and aware of what they’re supposed to do.”
Teaching children what they are supposed to do when the smoke detector sounds is important, said Christy.
“Get out and stay out,” he said. “Don’t be looking for your pets or your toys.”
The chief said that when sitting down to work on an escape plan as a family, people should take into account the unique characteristics of their families and their homes.
For instance, if the home is a ranch style with only a first floor, children can be taught to open windows, kick out screens and carefully climb out and drop to the ground.
If the home has bedrooms on the second floor, Christy recommends teaching children to keep doors closed if escape routes are blocked.
“If the door is hot, don’t open it,” he said. “Open the window and stay put, and we will find you.”
If there are infants and toddlers in a home too young to make their own way out of the house, this should be taken into account as well.
Christy said a critical component to a family’s escape plan is an agreed-upon meeting place outside where family members will gather. This can be a tree, a neighbor’s house, a streetlight — any safe place which is far enough from the house to be outside the danger zone. The chief said a neighbor’s house is preferable because family members can be safe from the weather and call for help.
“Make sure your kids are familiar with a neighbor or two so that they can go and knock on a neighbor’s door and have a safe place to go,” he said.
Once the family has safely gathered and firefighters begin arriving, Christy said it is important to let first responders know as soon as possible when everyone is outside.
“It’s important for us to have that critical information,” he said. “It allows us to focus early on putting the fire out instead of searching. Firemen have died looking for someone who wasn’t there in the first place.”
According to Christy, as cool weather approaches, the number of house fires steadily increases. This, he said, is the perfect time of year to check smoke detectors to make sure they are working, and make sure home evacuation plans are updated and familiar to everyone in the household.
“We need to have the proper precautions in place,” Christy said. “If people have questions or concerns about smoke detectors or evacuation plans, we will come out there and take a look at it, and help however we can.”